Thirteen opponents await Slim Shadey in the $150,000 John Henry Turf Championship (gr. IIT) as the British-bred 5-year-old attempts to defend his title Sept. 29 at Santa Anita Park.
Trained by Simon Callaghan for owner/breeder Phil Cunningham, Slim Shadey will have to overcome a wide starting berth in the 1 1/4-mile grass test and snap a recent slump since posting a repeat victory in the San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) over the course and distance in February. The gelded son of Val Royal has been well beaten while off the board in his past four races, including an eighth-place showing in his most recent start in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) July 20 at Del Mar.
Slim Shadey, who has posted four of his five lifetime wins over the Santa Anita lawn, won last year's John Henry by 2 1/4 lengths in front-running fashion, a style he is likely to employ once again. He gets a new rider in Julien Leparoux this time and drew post 13 in the large field.
Gary Stevens, who recorded his first stakes win since beginning a comeback in January aboard Slim Shadey in the San Marcos, takes the call on multiple Argentine grade I victor Indy Point for fellow Hall of Fame member Richard Mandella instead.
A star 3-year-old in his native Argentina last year, Indy Point won his North American debut smartly in the restricted one-mile Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar. Taking a big jump, he was made the slight 5-2 favorite in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 17 going 10 furlongs. But the Indygo Shiner colt never ran a step while finishing last of 13, more than 25 lengths behind the victorious Real Solution.
Indy Point had 24 days between his Del Mar debut and Arlington Park debacle.
"He didn't like the ground at all," Stevens said following the Million. "He warmed up fresh. I think the quick turnaround (24 days) and excitement got to him. He had a good feel to him the first time through, but then didn't like it and was protecting himself. I eased up on him and let him gallop out."
Indy Point has had five works since the Million, four of them at Santa Anita. Overall, he has six wins, four seconds and three thirds from 14 starts. Owned by Gus-May-Fer, he has earnings of $569,061.
The John Henry, until last year named the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship, drew Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Vagabond Shoes and Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) victor Tale of a Champion as well. Those two, along with San Diego Handicap (gr. II) winner Kettle Corn , carry top weight of 124 pounds, while Slim Shadey, Indy Point, and Brazilian grade I winner Holding Glory all tote 121.
The John Henry is the eighth race on Sunday's program with a 4:30 p.m. PDT scheduled post.
Hronis Racing's Irish-bred Vagabond Shoes appears to be at the top of his game following a runner-up finish to Jeranimo in the Eddie Read and his half-length triumph in the 11-furlong Del Mar Handicap a month later. Trainer John Sadler, who also entered Kettle Corn, tabbed Victor Espinoza once again to ride the 6-year-old Beat Hollow gelding from gate 8.
Also coming out of the Del Mar Handicap are the the close second- and third-place finishers, Lucayan and Huntsville.
Kettle Corn's best races have been on synthetic tracks, but he sports an allowance win over the Betfair Hollywood Park grass last November for owner C R K Stable. The 6-year-old son of Candy Ride followed his San Diego victory, accomplished by a half-length over grade I winner Paynter , with a distant second-place showing to Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 25. Rafael Bejarano takes over for Espinoza on the bay horse, who drew post 3.
Tale of a Champion will be seeking his third consecutive win in the John Henry. Trained by Kristin Mulhall, the 5-year-old by Tale of the Cat has had four recent works at Hollywood and will be ridden back by Joe Talamo, who was aboard for the bay horse's one-length triumph in the Whittingham.
Holding Glory, trained by A. C. Avila for owner Coudelaria Jessica, gets back on turf following a fifth-place finish in the Pacific Classic. The 4-year-old Public Purse colt won four of six starts on grass in his native Brazil.
Also of interest is multiple grade I winner Teaks North, claimed out of an optional allowance event for $100,000 at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 15 and making his first start for his new connections, Southern Equine Stable and trainer Eric Guillot. The 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding was last of six on the day he was claimed. But in his prior start he finished second to Big Blue Kitten in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park, a race he won in 2011.
Teaks North breaks from the inside post under 119 pounds with Martin Garcia aboard.
A winner of the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) as a 3-year-old in August 2012, Glen Hill Farm’s homebred Old Time Hockey rates an upset chance and will likely stalk the early pace with Corey Nakatani up. The 4-year-old Smarty Jones gelding is trained by Tom Proctor.
$150,000 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Teaks North (FL), M Garcia, 119, E J Guillot
2. Holding Glory (BRZ), M E Smith, 121, A C Avila
3. Kettle Corn (KY), R Bejarano, 124, J W Sadler
4. Indy Point (ARG), G L Stevens, 121, R E Mandella
5. Soi Phet (CA), I Orozco, 119, L Powell
6. Tale of a Champion (KY), J Talamo, 124, K Mulhall
7. Affrettando (CA), K Krigger, 119, M Pender
8. Vagabond Shoes (IRE), V Espinoza, 124, J W Sadler
9. Code of Conduct (KY), E A Maldonado, 119, P Miller
10. Old Time Hockey (FL), C S Nakatani, 119, T F Proctor
11. Irish Surf (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 116, D L Hendricks
12. Lucayan (FR), G K Gomez, 119, N D Drysdale
13. Slim Shadey (GB), J R Leparoux, 121, S Callaghan
14. Huntsville (CA), A Bisono, 119, B Abrams