Page McKenney wins the Pa Derby Champion Stakes at Parx Racing

Page McKenney wins the Pa Derby Champion Stakes at Parx Racing

Adrianna Lynch/BloodHorse

Ageless Page McKenney Ready for Harlan's Holiday

Former claimer seeks first graded win around two turns.

Owner Adam Staple has stopped trying to come up with adequate terms to describe the journey of venerable graded stakes winner Page McKenney

The 7-year-old gelding, who had won only 1 of 14 starts when claimed in July of 2013, seeks his 21st victory and 14th stakes win for his trainer Mary Eppler, Staple, and Jalin Stable when he heads up a field of nine entered in the $100,000 Harlan's Holiday Stakes (G3), one of five graded stakes on Gulfstream Park's Dec. 16 card.

Since being claimed for $16,000, Page McKenney has added one remarkable chapter to his story after another en route to distinguishing himself as a multiple stakes-winning millionaire. Beginning with his win in a starter allowance race May 3, 2014, the son of Eavesdropper has hit the board in 30 of his last 32 outings. The two-turn specialist won his first graded stakes in the seven-furlong General George Stakes (G3) at Laurel Park in February of 2016 and reeled off four stakes wins this season from eight starts.

"There are no words to describe the ridiculousness of this all. I know there are stories you read about—the Seabiscuits of the world—but there is no way you could ever say while remaining in touch with reality, 'Oh yes, we expected it,'" Staple said.

Page McKenney will seek his first graded-stakes success around two turns in the Harlan's Holiday and enters the 1 1/16-mile race off a rare fifth-place finish in the Nov. 11 Richard W. Small Stakes at Laurel.

"He had some behavioral issues, which is really out of character for him, before the Richard Small Stakes last time out. He couldn't be a more laidback horse. He just wasn't himself that day," said Staple, who sold a 10% share in Page McKenney to his breeders/former owners Dr. James Bryant and Linda Davis shortly after claiming him. "He didn't run a bad race that day. He got stuck between horses, got bounced around the first turn, and ran fairly evenly, but he was acting up coming out of the receiving barn and something just wasn't right."

Horacio Karamanos has the return mount aboard the venerable gelding, who boasts 20 wins from 52 starts and $1,759,378 in earnings.

Unlike Page McKenney, graded-stakes winner Mr. Jordan will enter the starting gate Saturday off one of his career-best performances. The Eddie Plesa-trained Kantharos  gelding registered an 11-length triumph in the Millions Classic Preview at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 11.

The 5-year-old had previously finished a disappointing eighth behind Page McKenney in the Pa Derby Champion Stakes at Parx Racing—an uncharacteristic performance his trainer attributes to a lack of communication between horse and rider. Ridden for the first time by Edgard Zayas in the Classic Preview, Mr. Jordan couldn't have offered a more professional performance.

"Myself, as a trainer, I can look at his past performances and pretty much sort things out logically why he didn't run as well as he should," Plesa said. "Some of it is that he's a somewhat peculiar horse to ride. He needs a certain type of rider on him. Zayas got along with him fantastically last time. He was one of the reasons why he won so easily. 

"Edgard and I spent some time together and went through the replays of his races, still photos, and things like that, and he took it to heart and rode him the way he needs to be ridden."

Having done his best at Gulfstream Park West, Mr. Jordan will be seeking his first win in eight starts at Gulfstream Park, where he has finished second in three stakes.

"He's coming into the race great. I feel very, very comfortable with Edgard back on him," said Plesa, who trains Mr. Jordan for his wife Laurie, David Melin, and Leon Ellman. "I have zero concerns going into this race right now."

Todd Pletcher-trained Destin is scheduled to drop from top-level company to compete in the Harlan's Holiday. The 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway  finished sixth in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) at Churchill Downs Nov. 24, three weeks after winning the Marathon Stakes Presented by TAA (G2) at Del Mar. Destin, who is owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stables and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, won the 2016 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and then finished second, beaten by a nose by Creator, in last year's Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1).

Saturday's card also features the $100,000 Rampart Stakes (G3) for fillies and mares where Curlin's Approval will look to flaunt her affinity for the Gulfstream Park surface once more.

Bred, trained, and co-owned by Happy Alter, Curlin's Approval has earned all four of her wins so far this season over the Gulfstream track including victories in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G3), Royal Delta Stakes (G2), and the Princess Rooney Stakes Presented by Hardacre Farm (G2). The 4-year-old daughter of Curlin  enters the one-mile Rampart off a 13th place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar where she lost all chance when she stumbled badly at the start.

“It was disappointing. When a horse stumbles out of the gate it’s like a relay race with people and someone drops the baton," Alter said. "You can’t recover. You can’t pick it up and recover."

The six-furlong Sugar Swirl Stakes (G3) offers a field of nine fillies and mares set to go to post including Miss Hollywood, who captured the 2016 Monroe Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and defending race winner Dearest.

Entries: Harlan's Holiday S. (G3)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, December 16, 2017, Race 9

  • Grade III
  • 1 1/16m
  • Dirt
  • $100,000
  • 3 yo's & up
  • 4:06 PM (local)
11Richard the Great (FL)Paco Lopez119Stanley I. Gold10/1
22Mr. Jordan (FL)Edgard J. Zayas121Edward Plesa, Jr.4/1
33Destin (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez123Todd A. Pletcher5/2
44Conquest Big E (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJose A. Batista121Donna Green Hurtak15/1
55Page McKenney (PA)Horacio Karamanos121Mary E. Eppler6/1
66Frammento (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Gaffalione117Nicholas P. Zito20/1
77Fear the Cowboy (KY)Javier Castellano121Efren Loza, Jr.7/2
88Flatlined (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJoel Rosario121Charles L. Dickey6/1
99Joshua's Comprise (FL)Oscar Ulloa117Barry R. Rose30/1

Entries: Rampart S. (G3)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, December 16, 2017, Race 5

  • Grade III
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $100,000
  • 3 yo's & up Fillies and Mares
  • 2:05 PM (local)
11Curlin's Approval (KY)Luis Saez123Happy Alter8/5
22Lirica (FL)Marcos Meneses116Antonio Sano20/1
33Lewis Bay (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateIrad Ortiz, Jr.119Chad C. Brown7/2
44King's Ghost (ON)Keeneland Sales GraduateJorge Ruiz121Martin D. Wolfson15/1
55Alpine Sky (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Gaffalione117Mark E. Casse6/1
66Nonna Mela (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJavier Castellano114Todd A. Pletcher5/2
77Gamble's Ghost (ON)John R. Velazquez123Josie Carroll12/1

Entries: Sugar Swirl S. (G3)

Gulfstream Park, Saturday, December 16, 2017, Race 7

  • Grade III
  • 6f
  • Dirt
  • $100,000
  • 3 yo's & up Fillies and Mares
  • 3:05 PM (local)
11Dearest (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateEdgard J. Zayas119Gilberto Zerpa6/5
22Miss Hollywood (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez117Mark E. Casse6/1
33More Than a Party (NJ)Albin Jimenez119Edwin T. Broome15/1
44Stella Performance (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJose A. Batista114Eric J. Guillot20/1
55True Romance (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduatePaco Lopez119Timothy A. Hills5/1
66Girls Know Best (KY)Javier Castellano114Eddie Kenneally15/1
77Pretty Perfection (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateNik Juarez119Kelly J. Breen9/2
88Rich Mommy (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateLuis Saez114Victor Barboza, Jr.12/1
99Bodacious Babe (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateIrad Ortiz, Jr.117Jane Cibelli15/1