Maker eases into meet with 10 entries for opening day

Jennie Rees

(Photos: Parlor, in white blinkers, shown finishing second by a nose to 2019 Preakness winner War of Will in Keeneland's Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile, is one of two horses trainer Mike Maker entered in Monday's $750,000 Tourist Mile. Maker will attempt to repeat with Zulu Alpha in the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. Coady Photography photos)

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020) — Trainer Mike Maker told his barn crew to enjoy an easy day Monday when the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs kicks off its six-date run featuring exclusively grass racing.

“I said to the guys at the barn, ‘You guys can have a light opening day and then after that we’ll pick it up a little bit,” Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, said cheerfully. “We entered nine the first day, and we have 15 to 20 every other day.”

Entries for opening day were taken Wednesday with 154 horses making the program: 127 in the body for the 11-race card and another 27 needing defections in order to get in off the also-eligible list. Post time for the first race is 12:10 p.m. Central.

Maker actually wound up having 10 entries Monday, with three needing scratches to run. Among those he entered are Parlor and Hembree in the $750,000 Tourist Mile, the last of four stakes on the WinStar Farm Day card. The capacity field of 12 also includes 2019 winner Snapper Sinclair and Grade 1 winner Next Shares.

Maker claimed Parlor for $80,000 last November at the Fair Grounds for owners Michael Hui, Hooties Racing and WSS Racing. Hui also owns Zulu Alpha. After two races, Maker added blinkers to Parlor, and the 6-year-old gelding responded with four strong efforts, including third by a total of a half-length to multiple graded-stakes winner Factor This in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Wise Dan and a nose defeat in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile won by 2019 Preakness winner War of Will.

“When we claimed him, he had a little bit of a throat issue that we worked on,” Maker said of Parlor. “That seems to be corrected. I’d like to think that’s the basis for his improvement. The blinkers were more or less to get him involved a little early.”

The Tourist Mile will be Parlor’s fifth year to run at Kentucky Downs, having finished second by a neck (Kentucky Downs Juvenile), second by three-quarters of a length (Dueling Grounds Derby), third (Old Friends, now known as the Tapit Stakes) and ninth in last year’s Tourist Mile.

Three Diamonds Farm’s Hembree was claimed 2 1/2 years ago for $50,000 and is one of Maker’s many claims to become graded-stakes winners on turf. He was fourth in last year’s Tourist Mile after winning a Kentucky Downs allowance race in 2018. Hembree most recently was third behind Tourist contender Spectacular Gem in Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile.

Maker has the intriguing Indy Tourist in the $500,000 More Than Ready Juvenile. The other stakes Monday are the $500,000 The Mint Juvenile Fillies and the $300,000 One Dreamer for fillies and mares who haven’t won a stakes in 2020.

“We had high hopes on him,” Maker said of Indy Tourist, adding of a 12-length defeat in Indy Tourist’s debut, “We ran him at Churchill Downs first time and he stood in the gate, lost all chance and then came back and won by like 16 at Indiana.” Not to nitpick, but it was 15 3/4 lengths on turf at the More Than Ready Juvenile’s mile distance.

The Maker arsenal includes the defending champ in the $1 million, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup in Zulu Alpha. The 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup heads the five-stakes extravaganza on the Sept. 12 Calumet Farm Day at Kentucky Downs. Zulu Alpha kick-started his 2020 season by taking Gulfstream Park’s Grade 1, $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf. His only defeat in four starts this year was a fast-flying second while losing the Grade 2 Kitten’s Joy Pan American to stablemate Bemma’s Boy by a neck.

“He’s breathing fire, ready to roll,” Maker said of Zulu Alpha.

Maker entered Tiger Blood, a $62,500 claim by Parlor’s ownership group, in Friday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs but said he is likely to scratch to run in Kentucky Downs’ $750,000, Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint on Sept. 12, a race whose winner gets a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

“He’s an old classy horse,” he said. “He hasn’t won for us yet, but maybe this will be the one.”

Skychai Racing’s Jolting Joe, who finished second in his racing debut last year at Kentucky Downs behind Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass winner Art Collector, is being pointed for the Sept. 10 $750,000 Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby, Maker said. The New York-bred Joltin Joe reeled off four seconds (including to Tampa Bay Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up King Guillermo) before earning his first victory in a $100,000 New York Stallion Series Stakes at Saratoga in his last start.

Maker’s 55 career wins tops Kentucky Downs’ all-time standings, with Wesley Ward second at 32. Maker’s $7,394,565 in purse earnings dwarfs Ward's $3,448,575, which also ranks second all-time.

However, Maker’s run of four straight Kentucky Downs training titles, with a combined 33 victories, ended last year when he won only three races. The title, at four wins, was shared by Joe Sharp, Ian Wilkes and Ward. But Maker also had a track-record 14 seconds which helped him easily win the money title with purse earnings of $1,435,771, almost double Rusty Arnold’s next-best $791,094.

“Like I told everybody, second-place finishes at Kentucky Downs are like winning at other tracks.… Titles are nice. You always like to win if you can,” Maker said, adding with a laugh. “But like I said, if I had to pick between the two, I’d prefer to have the money title.”

Maker has more starts — 301 — than any trainer in Kentucky Downs history dating to when he went 0 for 5 in 2003, according to statistics. If Maker runs a lot of horses, he’s also said in the past, “You should see all the horses that didn’t get in,” referencing Kentucky Downs’ tendency to get more entries for a race than the maximum 12 that can start. This meet, Maker estimates that he will enter “75 to 80” horses, or about a third of his stable.