FRANKLIN, Ky. (Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018) — Jazzy Times is the kind of break-through horse that Ty Kennedy has worked for throughout his young riding career. The gelding, claimed for $25,000 four races earlier by owner-trainer Wes Hawley, gave Kennedy the biggest victory to date in capturing Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint.
Now the 24-year-old jockey is hoping that Jazzy Times tops that in the $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint on Sept. 8 at Kentucky Downs.
“We’re looking forward to the next race with him,” Kennedy said recently after working Jazzy Times at Churchill Downs. “He’s going to have to step up again. But he’s done it both times on the turf so far, so who knows how high the horse will take us?”
The first time Hawley ran Jazzy Times, the gelding was fourth in a $32,000 claiming race on dirt. He shipped to Indiana Grand to try the grass, with Kennedy aboard for the first time. Jazzy Times won that $25,000 claiming race by a head, then in the next start won his first stakes in the Ellis race, beaten Extravagant Kid and Maniacal by a half-length.
"Wes said he had a feeling he’d be a grass horse, and that’s what we were taking a shot with,” Kennedy said. “And Wes Hawley was right.”
What Hawley also told people going into that turf debut is that he thought Jazzy Times might wind up being another Chamberlain Bridge. That’s the horse Bret Calhoun claimed for $35,000 in 2008 that went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 2010, also at Churchill Downs.
“Before he ran this horse up at Indiana, that’s the horse he referenced, Chamberlain Bridge,” Kennedy said. “He said that he’s got one just like it, if not better. I said, ‘Let’s go find out.’ Wes took us up there and man, just phenomenal on the grass, he was. Then he stepped up at Ellis and he’s going to have to step up again. But we all think he can or we wouldn’t be trying it. Wes has 100-percent confidence in this horse, and that’s good enough for me. I believe in him 100-percent as well.”
Hawley figured Jazzy Times had back class, given that he was third in a Grade 1 sprint at Santa Anita two years ago, when trained by Bob Baffert.
“So he’s proven,” Kennedy said. “We just think he’s a little bit better on turf, and that’s what he’s showing us right now.
“I told Wes that the first time I got on him, he kind of feels like a quarter horse, because he’s got a stout neck to him. He’s strong within himself, makes you work a little bit. But he’s just a classy horse. He knows his job and he knows how to do it well. He really enjoys his training. Wes and his crew have done a terrific job with him.”
Kennedy said it would be huge for his career if Jazzy Times could win the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. In his only other stakes in limited opportunities besides at Ellis, the jockey won a $100,000 race for Iowa-breds in 2016 at Prairie Meadows.
“The dream is everybody wants to find that horse,” Kennedy said. “A lot of people here have had the horse and then some. This will kind of be my first big horse to take us to that level. It’s something we’re definitely prepared for, yet excited for at the same time. Because we think this horse can really take us to the first weekend in November right here at home at Churchill. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re pointing for, and we’re looking for a heck of a ride.”
Kennedy gives his agent, 24-year-old Rocco O’Connor, credit for getting the mount on Jazzy Times. O’Connor was briefly an assistant trainer to Hawley and the men remain good friends.
"My agent, Rocco O'Connor, has just done a tremendous job," Kennedy said. "He's young and I'm young. When we first got together, I said, 'We've been in the game a long time, but we're still learning. We're going to make some mistakes, we're human. But as long as we're trying and doing everything we can, there's nothing more we can ask. He's doing a terrific job. I give him 100-percent credit for getting us on this horse and the opportunities we're getting right now."
O'Connor said a victory in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint "would be unbelievable, especially for me and my career," adding of Jazzy Times' Ellis triumph, “It meant a lot to win for Wes when we won here at Ellis, and especially for Ty. Ty is an extremely hard working young man. You never have to ask him twice to do anything. He’s willing to do anything. He’s a very capable riding.
“He’s just moving his tack over to the Kentucky circuit, which is hard to do for a young rider. It would really help his career to get this horse to the winner’s circle at Kentucky Downs and, as Wes said, ultimately the goal is the Breeders’ Cup. If we could ride this train all the way there, it would be an unbelievable experience.”
A lot of trainers would switch to a more experienced rider when shooting for a $500,000 race, the agent acknowledged.
“Wes is a really nice guy,” O’Connor said. “My back relationship with Wes I think has a lot to do with that. And Wes is a small-time guy, too. You find those small-time guys always want to help some other small-time guys out. So we thank Wes for that. It’s really nice of him to keep us on this horse.”
This will be Kennedy’s third Kentucky Downs meet.
“It’s a course that definitely makes you think,” he said. “It keeps you sharp, keeps you keen on your skills. Because of just turning left, going in an oval, you go uphill, downhill, turn right, come through a little dip. But it’s a fun course to ride. But it does take some getting used to.”
Cannon heating up at right time
Declan Cannon is getting hot at the right time, enjoying a streak with five wins in 10 mounts at Ellis Park, including on 25-1 shot Risky Town in Friday’s first race.
It’s always a good time to get hot, but the end of the Ellis Park meet is particularly fortuitous, leading into Kentucky Downs’ lucrative five-date meet.
“Hopefully it keeps rolling on to the next stop, Kentucky Downs,” Cannon said recently. “A lot of horses aim for that. I don’t know what I’ve got yet. Hopefully we get lucky. I’m looking forward to it. People are ringing for me, so that’s good. It helps when you’ve had a good week the week before.
“When I came here first, I started riding at Ellis and had a good meet. Everybody was talking about Kentucky Downs and I was like, ‘never heard of the place,’” said Cannon, who grew up in Ireland and rode in Europe, Dubai and Asia before relocating to America a few years ago. “I ended only riding a few, because it was my first meet, and won an allowance race. It was a long shot — actually the horse Scooter Dickey now has, (graded-stakes winner) One Go All Go. That was my first experience. I rode a lot of horses there last year, hopefully the same this year.”
Cannon said the key to riding Kentucky Downs’ 1 5/16-mile course is “to stay out of the horse’s way.
“I’m used to going up and down hills, left and right-handed in Ireland and England. You’ll never see a horse get unbalanced (running around) in a field loose. So don’t get in it’s way. And that’s what it comes down to. Sometimes going down the bend, when you come down the hill, some riders might want to take back … You can slow them up after you get them half-way into the bend, but you have to just stay out of the way for the most part. Horses will switch leads sometimes because they’re not used to being on the turn for so long. But they’ll switch back when they’re ready. Bu you have to just leave them alone and not mess with them. It’s natural for me because a lot of tracks in Europe are like that.”
The jockey said the people coming to Kentucky Downs are true racing fans.
“I meet people there every year that I’ve seen before there at the rail; it’s very laid back,” he said. “People who are going there are really going to see the horse racing. It’s not like (some tracks) where people are just there to gamble. They’re actually there to see the horse racing. Because it’s unique, it’s different. I like the way they have some of the longer races, too.”