Guys Reward, stalking three wide into the stretch on a soggy Churchill Downs turf course, drew clear approaching the furlong pole to win the closing night Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) by two lengths July 1 (VIDEO).
The start of the $165,900 race was delayed by about 45 minutes due to a heavy thunderstorm that temporarily knocked out power at the Louisville track prior to the fifth race. The turf course, despite the heavy rain, was rated "good."
Guys Reward defeated Seruni, who finished a half-length in front of pacesetting Night Party. Grade I winner Turallure, the 7-10 favorite in the field of five, was steadied when blocked on the final turn and could not recover in the drive to finish fourth, 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner. The final time for the one-mile event was 1:38.46.
Corey Lanerie, the spring meet's runaway leading rider, guided 5-year-old Guys Reward to his first graded stakes score for trainer Dale Romans and owner Michael J. Bruder. The son of Grand Reward earned his third consecutive turf victory during the spring stand.
It was Romans' record third Firecracker triumph. He also won the race with Kitten's Joy (2005) and Thorn Song (2008).
“It was a good way to end the meet,” said Romans, who completed his ninth Churchill training title with 23 wins, six more than runner-up Tom Amoss. “This is a nice race and I’ve always liked this race and this is our third win in here. He is a really good horse. He’s always been a nice horse, but the older he gets the better he gets. He just seems to be maturing and improving.”
Haymarket Farm bred the winner, who is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Beach View, in Kentucky. Guys Reward is now a five-time winner in nine tries on the Churchill turf.
The scratch of Mandurah left Night Party, ridden by Victor Lebron, as the lone speed in the short field. Night Party, leaving from the rail, overtook Seruni with Jon Court aboard, shortly after the start and led by about one length or more through quarter-mile fractions of :24.82, :50.12, and 1:14.96.
Guys Reward, third on the outside of traffic with Turallure a close-up fourth, edged closer on the second turn and angled out for the drive. Seruni, challenging Night Party on the final turn, battled with determination through the lane with Night Party and Guys Reward before the latter got the advantage approaching mid-stretch. Guys Reward drew clear in the final furlong under steady urging from Lanerie.
“At the quarter pole I decided to go and get a jump on Turallure in case he was going to come running and my horse kicked on and ran hard all the way to the wire,” Lanerie said. “It’s a great way to end the meet and this is the icing on the cake. It’s been one of the best meets of my career.”
Lanerie wrapped his first Churchill Downs riding title with 71 wins during the 38-day season – 24 ahead of runner-up Shaun Bridgmohan’s 47. His rate of 1.87 wins-per-day was the highest at a Churchill Downs Spring Meet since Steve Brooks won 46 races during the 19-day season of 1948, some 64 years ago.
Seruni edged Night Party for second, with 122-pound high weight Turallure three-quarters of a length farther back in fourth. Silver Rock trailed.
“He looked flat going into the first turn,” trainer Charlie Lopresti said of Turallure, who lost last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile by a nose to the Romans-traineed Court Vision . “I thought he was just floundering. It was like he was just swimming out of water. That’s what he looked like to me and that’s kind of what (jockey) Julien (Leparoux) said."
Guys Reward, who paid $9 and $4.60 for the win while carrying 118 pounds, improved his record to 7-5-9 in 34 lifetime starts. He earned $102,858 for the victory, boosting his career bankroll to $516,155. Guys Reward was coming off victory in the Opening Verse Stakes June 9.
Seruni, who was also second to Guys Reward in the Opening Verse, returned $5.40. The exacta was worth $32.20.