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Course Records Fall on Kentucky Downs Preview Day

Jockey Florent Geroux aboard for both record rides at Ellis Park.

Two course records were set at Ellis Park Aug. 4 when the Henderson, Ky., track hosted Kentucky Downs Preview Day.

Five turf stakes, each with a $100,000 purse, highlighted Sunday’s card and provided steppingstones to the five-day all-turf meet in Franklin, Ky.

A total of $2,782,933 was wagered across the country at Ellis Park on Sunday, up 36% over last year’s inaugural preview day.

Jockey Florent Geroux enjoyed winning rides on the two record setters, first guiding Jim and Susan Hill’s Totally Boss to a half-length victory in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, then piloting Gaining Ground Racing’s Factor This to a head score in the day’s finale, the Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes.

An already banner weekend for trainer Rusty Arnold, he added another accolade to toss on the mantle when Totally Boss reeled in defending race winner Jazzy Times in the Preview Turf Sprint. The 4-year-old Street Boss gelding rallied from next to last in the early going en route to covering the 5 1/2-furlongs in 1:00.26, breaking the previous course mark of 1:00.52 set by Bettybird in 2002.

Earlier in the weekend, Arnold won with Concrete Rose and Leinster in the Saratoga Oaks Invitational and Troy Stakes (G3T), respectively, at Saratoga Race Course.

Arnold said a start at in the Sept. 7 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint was always the plan for Totally Boss as long as he earned his way in, but added he might have stiff competition from his own barn in Leinster.

The Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race, providing the winner with a fees-paid entry to the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) at Santa Anita Park.

Kentucky Downs is offering a $1 million bonus if the winner of its race goes on to take Keeneland’s Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (G2T) and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

“It’s been a great weekend. We’re just going to enjoy it and hopefully it’s not over and they can all get to the next level because we’ve got pretty big plans for all of three of them,” Arnold said. “Sometimes a plan works out. We had taken both those sprinters and we knew we needed to separate them and we did and they both got there. They might not get separated in the next one, they might both go to Kentucky Downs. We’ll look at our options, but they’re good problems to have.”

Fourth-place finisher Sir Navigator collapsed on the walk back and died while he was being treated on the track.

“He collapsed after unsaddling,” said chief state veterinarian Bruce Howard. “They got him up and he took a few steps and collapsed and died. We put ice blankets on him, started to treat him, and before we could get much going with him, he was gone. The top three things you would think of would be heart attack, a bleeding incident internally, or heat. He didn’t act typically of heat, but you can’t say before an autopsy is done.”

Geroux was back in the winner’s circle when Factor This, a $62,500 claim by trainer Brad Cox a year ago, earned black type by holding off respective surges from Botswana and My Boy Jack to take the Preview Turf Cup in 1:59.12, breaking the previous mark of 1:59.60 set by Ye Slew in 1994.

“We claimed him last year and we thought a lot of him when we claimed him,” Cox said. “He gave us a couple decent starts but he was somewhat of a heavily-raced horse going into late last year so we thought, let’s freshen him up and bring him back for a 4-year-old campaign.

“We flirted with the dirt because he’s had some success and some experience on the dirt, but we found out quickly at Oaklawn that’s not a surface he wanted to do. We brought him back to the grass and here we are. He’s 3-for-3 on the grass this year.”

“He’s a horse who likes to be forwardly placed,” Geroux said. “He broke sharp today and … he started getting keen on the backside and I didn’t want to fight and have him pulling too hard. So I just opened my hands and let him go a little bit and made sure he was relaxed.”

Cox said the Sept. 7 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup would be under serious consideration for the colt’s next start, though he relishes the fact that he now has ample options to consider.

After falling just short in two races in Florida this winter, Turf Stable Racing’s Mr Cub returned from nearly a six-month hiatus, ending a six-race losing skid. Under a stalk-and-pounce trip under Brian Hernandez Jr., he caught pacesetting Siem Riep in the closing yards to take the Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile by a neck.

He completed the mile in 1:32.70 on a firm turf.

Winning trainer Ian Wilkes said he was uncertain what to expect from Mr Cub, noting the horse does not fully extend himself in morning training, and Hernandez said that played a role in race strategy.

“I talked to Ian this morning and he was telling me this horse is not that good of a work horse,” Hernandez said. “Coming off the layoff, we were a little worried about what we needed to finish this. So I rode him a little conservatively but when I called on him, he came running.

“For (Wilkes) to have him ready like he did and for him to run as fast as he did, that goes to show you how good of a horse that he is.”

Mr Cub earned an entry-fee paid berth in the Aug. 31 Tourist Mile, which Wilkes called “a logical spot.”

Sunday’s card also drew one of the nation’s leading jockeys, Tyler Gaffalione, rider of Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will who has spent recent weeks at Saratoga.

He piloted Kallio to a neck victory over Classy Act in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf. Kallio surged from sixth to race a mile on firm turf in 1:32.62, just .02 of a second off the course record of 1:32.60, set by Slewper Imp in 1995.

“It’s a great place to come,” Gaffalione said of Ellis Park. “Great people, fun environment. I always enjoy it. Hopefully, get to come back again next year.”

Kallio, campaigned by Madaket Stables, Tim Cambron, Anna Cambron, and Bradley Thoroughbreds, is now positioned for a lucrative opportunity in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3T), for which she a received an entry-paid berth with her Ellis Park victory.

“She’s very talented,” said trainer Brendan Walsh. “She has been tricky to train mentally, more than anything, but every time she runs, she gets it a little more, a little more. I really think we are only on the tip of the iceberg right now. She has plenty more to come. She looks like a filly that will mature with age. Yeah, we’re excited about her, especially the way she’s going.”

Lloyd Madison Farm’s May Lily and jockey Gabriel Saez turned the tables on Surrender Now to win the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint. 

After Surrender Now got the best of them June 30 by three lengths in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance test at the Pea Patch, May Lily and Saez turned the tables in dramatic fashion Sunday when they uncorked a rally down the middle of the track to capture the Ladies Sprint by a head over the 1-2 favorite. 

“Gabe made a nice early move, he knew (Surrender Now) was the horse to beat,” said Travis Foley, assistant to his father, trainer Greg Foley. “I think (the cut back in distance has helped). It started out where we were just getting a race into her and she excelled in the spot. We keep putting her in the spots and she keeps performing.”

“Right out of the gate, I put her in the position we wanted to be,” Saez said. “I went from there, followed the pace, and made my move around the quarter pole. By the sixteenth she was really rolling. I thought I had it (at the wire) I was really confident.”

A start at Kentucky Downs is next on May Lily’s agenda, according to Travis Foley, where she will attempt to do better than her half brother Zapperini, who was sixth in the Old Friends Stakes there last year after getting nipped in the Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup Stakes one start prior.

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