Churchill Race Report: Group Therapy

Published in the Nov. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
Nasty Storm was scheduled to sell at the Keeneland November mixed sale Tuesday, Nov. 6. However, her win in the grade II $222,200 Churchill Downs Distaff Nov. 3 left her connections with a bad case of pre-sale remorse. Reiley McDonald, co-owner of Eaton Sales and one of five partners who owns Nasty Storm, said the group had spent many hours discussing whether to sell the filly depending on the outcome of the race. But after she crossed the wire first, McDonald said all previous discussions went out the window. "There's just one problem now," he said. "We're having too much fun."

The fun will continue because the group scratched Nasty Storm (Gulch--A Stark Is Born, by Graustark) from the sale and will point her toward a 4-year-old campaign. However, her future on the track will not include a start in the $250,000 Falls City Handicap (gr. III) Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs. "I don't know if there's much left this year," said trainer Dallas Stewart. "We've got the Falls City and Unbridled Elaine (who won the grade I Breeders' Cup Distaff for Stewart Oct. 27) will probably run back in there. This filly, we don't want to run her into the ground."

The Churchill Distaff was her third consecutive win, all in stakes company. She previously had won the Weekend Delight Stakes at Turfway Park and the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland. Those two wins followed an impressive effort in the grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga, where she was left at the gate before making a hard-closing run to finish third. "She's just gotten better with age. She got good up at Saratoga and she was just unlucky in the Test," said Stewart, who owns the filly with McDonald, former University of Louisville men's basketball coach Denny Crum, Daryl Elser, and Joe Riccelli. "Today was a test. There were some nice fillies in there. And as I told my guys, 'this was no easy race.' "

And it wasn't. Nasty Storm got the lead at the break, and she and Forest Secrets soon hooked up to race one-two around the track with Nasty Storm setting fractions of :23.15 and :46.21. The winner edged away from her rival to take a 11/2-length lead in the stretch and maintained that advantage by 1 1/4 lengths at the wire. Forest Secrets finished a length ahead of Trip, with last year's 2-year-old filly champion, Caressing, finishing fourth. The final running time for the one-mile event was 1:35.30.

"I know we were running pretty quick, but she was getting over the ground--just tiptoeing over it. She started to pick it up coming to the head of the stretch and I just let her kick on," said Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day.

ANOTHER McPEEK 2-YEAR-OLD

Trainer Ken McPeek has a way with 2-year-olds. This year he has saddled Walmac International Alcibiades (gr. II) winner Take Charge Lady and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Repent. His latest 2-year-old star is Harlan's Holiday, who won the $100,000 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) to give McPeek his first stakes win under the Twin Spires.

"It's about damn time," McPeek said of getting his first stakes win at Churchill. "I've won many at Keeneland and tons at Turfway, River Downs --I've been second in the (Kentucky) Derby (Tejano Run, 1995)...I've been all over the board. Don't ask me why I've never won one until today."

Harlan's Holiday, under jockey Tony D'Amico, swept to the lead at the top of the stretch and drew off for the 2 3/4-length win. The Ohio-bred son of Harlan out of the Affirmed mare Christmas in Aiken set a stakes record as he zipped over the mile in 1:35.01 to best the mark of 1:35.24 established last year by Meetyouathebrig. Request for Parole and Gold Dollar closed from the back of the pack to grab the place and show spots. The 2-1 favorite, Janadel, finished fourth.

Showmeitall rocketed out of the gate while Harlan's Holiday tracked from second through opening fractions of :21.96 and :44.03 before taking over and pulling away for the win.

Harlan's Holiday races in the Starlight Stable colors of Atlanta resident Jack Wolf.

Now McPeek must decide if he is ready for a showdown between his stable top guns, Harlan's Holiday and Repent, in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 24 at Churchill.

"I've got a tough decision to make in about three weeks. You've got to run them against one another eventually, maybe. But we'll see. Maybe we won't run them both, I don't know," McPeek said.

What he does know is that his barn is ready for a spring 2002 campaign. "They are just such different horses. Repent is a hard closer, a deep closer--but this colt has tactical speed. This colt, in certain races, is going to have the advantage. If it's a paceless race, Harlan's Holiday is going to be tough to catch for a horse like Repent. So it's all relative and it depends on how those races set up."

LOTTA RHYTHM PULLS POCAHONTAS UPSET

When the phone rings and the caller ID displays the name Robert Frankel, neither trainer Hal Wiggins nor owner Dolphus Morrison is answering. Or at least, that was the reaction after Wiggins and Morrison teamed up to win the Pocahontas Stakes with 22-1 shot Lotta Rhythm.

Morrison sold the 2-year-old You for $150,000 to Edmund Gann on the recommendation of Frankel during Churchill's spring meet. You went on to win Saratoga's Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) and Belmont's Frizette (gr. I) before finishing fourth as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). "It's tough knowing that you had a good one like that and let her get away. But I'm real pleased for Mr. Morrison because it turns out he bred two good fillies," Wiggins said.

"We won't sell her (Lotta Rhythm). We're going to take her and beat (You) in the (Kentucky) Oaks."

Wiggins quickly added that he was only kidding about the reference to challenging You, but it was clear that Lotta Rhythm is pointed toward the 2002 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). "I can only see her getting better."

In the Pocahontas, Lotta Rhythm covered the mile over the fast track in 1:37.96 and paid $46.40 in the field of eight. Cunning Play surged inside in the stretch but couldn't hold off the winner. Ohio-bred Joanies Bella finished another 2 1/4 lengths back for third.

Tactical Sun and Joanies Bella battled for the early lead through fractions of :22.96 and :46.40. As the field approached the top of the stretch, Cunning Play rallied along the rail while Lotta Rhythm was picking off horses on the outside before seizing the lead inside the eighth pole.

"When I got to the outside at the top of the lane, I noticed the eight horse (Cunning Play) got stopped and I think that gave me a little momentum on her. I think I'd have had trouble beating her if she had gotten a clear path. I was just fortunate that I got to the wire first," said jockey Marlon St. Julien.

Lotta Rhythm (Rhythm--Kim's Blues, by Cure the Blues) is now pointed toward the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 24 at Churchill. "If she comes back 100%, she's going to the Golden Rod. If she does run in it, we'll maybe give her December off and try to come back with a good spring," Wiggins said.

(Chart, Equibase)

Most Popular Stories