Nelson McMakin's Pleuven, a French-bred gelding who was a close second in the Opening Verse Stakes May 21 in his Churchill Downs debut, stepped up big time with a victory in the $200,000 Wise Dan Stakes (gr. IIT) at the Kentucky track June 18.
Ridden by Channing Hill for trainer Phil Sims, Pleuven was close up for most of the 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-olds and up. He made his bid for the lead on the far turn, took over from front-running Kasaqui in midstretch and edged away to defeat that one by three-quarters of a length in 1:40.96 on a course rated firm. Thatcher Street, who won the Opening Verse, closed for third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Kasasqui, while favored The Pizza Man, in his first start since Feb. 6, rallied belatedly for fourth.
Pleuven, a 5-year-old gelding by Turtle Bowl out of the Singspiel mare Under Estimated, was bred in France by Jean De Cheffontaines. He won back-to-back allowance races in the winter of 2015 at Gulfstream Park and didn't resurface until April 21 of this year at Keeneland, where he finished a tight fifth in an allowance race.
"He needed some time off," Sims said. "(This year) he has been getting a little bit better with each start. He's such a neat horse, and he looks better after every race."
The fractions for the Wise Dan, formerly called the Firecracker, were :23.81 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.31 for a half-mile, 1:11.82 for six furlongs, and 1:35.04 for one mile. Pleuven paid $17.20 to win.
"The trip we got last time (in the Opening Verse) was different; he didn't get true cover last time," Hill said. "He ran a terrific race last time, but today worked out perfectly."
Pleuven has five wins, two seconds, and two thirds in 11 starts. His only other stakes win came in a stakes at Longchamp in France in 2013.
Illinois-bred The Pizza Man, winner of last year's Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IIT) and second beaten a neck in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland, raced well, according to jockey Florent Geroux.
"I think he ran a great race, you know," Geroux said. "He was far back—like he usually does. There was not much pace in the front of the race, but he came running. Hopefully (this will prepare him for) a nice campaign for the summer."