Wilkes can cap big meet with Sonic Boom
Jennie Rees

Photo: Julien Leparoux guided Sonic Boom to victory in Arlington Park's Grade 3 American Derby. Four Footed Fotos
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017) — Ian Wilkes probably can’t catch Mike Maker for the Kentucky Downs training title. But he can certainly end America’s most unique race meet in style.

Wilkes runs five horses on Thursday’s closing card, including Lothenbach Stables' intriguing 3-1 favorite Sonic Boom in the $250,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-olds and Sweet Tapper in the $350,000 Ramsey Farm for fillies and mares at 1 5/16 miles.

The barn has won three races this meet, with a second and third, spread over the first four days. But while mathematically still in the hunt for leading trainer, Wilkes will have to have an epic day to catch Maker, who has six wins.

Maker, the two-time defending training champion, has 10 horses running in six races Thursday. That includes strong favorite Kitten’s Roar and tepid second choice Daring Duchess in the Ramsey Farm and Benefactor and Kitten’s Cat in the Franklin-Simpson. If he sweeps both stakes Thursday, Maker will match last year’s haul of five stakes victories, having already has won the $600,000, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (Oscar Nominated); $350,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (Hogy); and Old Friends Stakes (Sir Dudley Digges).

But Wilkes isn’t complaining. Heck, his horses have earned $354,453. His victories were all in allowances races, two worth $145,000 and one $140,000. He narrowly lost the Old Friends with Thatcher Street second.

“Anytime you win down there, it’s good,” Wilkes said. “The money is tremendous. The owners are so excited because you don’t get a chance to run for that kind of money too often. And Churchill and Keeneland are slowly catching up; they’ve raised the purses for the fall. I think Kentucky is just going to get stronger and stronger.”

Sonic Boom won Tampa’s Columbia Stakes and after racing in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Transylvania, ripped through a second-level Churchill Downs allowance and Arlington’s Grade 3 American Derby. He set the pace before weakening to fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat at 1 1/4 miles, sparking Wilkes to turn the son of More Than Ready back in distance to the Franklin-Simpson’s seven-eighths of a mile.

“I think the mile and a quarter was just a little too far for him,” Wilkes said from Keeneland’s yearling sale. “I think he’s going to be a really good miler next year. He’s going to be a nice horse.”

Winchester Place Thoroughbreds’ Sweet Tapper is a daughter of super-sire Tapit and out the Grade 1-winning mare Sweet Talker. Sweet Tapper was third last fall in a very tough running of Churchill’s Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at 89-1 odds. She captured the $100,000 Lady Canterbury in Minnesota, then was third as the odds-on favorite in a mile allowance race in her last start, two months ago.

“She’s a well-bred filly,” Wilkes said. “She won the Lady Canterbury and I left her up there. They ran her in an allowance and she just got beat. She was supposed to run in a little stakes, but it came off the turf. They sent her back to me and I said, ‘I’d like to try her going long now.’ Because the filly has some talent, and she’s learned to relax. She might just stretch out really well.”

Kentucky Downs extremely confident of running

Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs’ senior vice president and general manager, said he is “extremely confident” of racing Thursday. Nicholson said less than an inch of rain had fallen between Monday and Wednesday afternoon, which basically took the place of any watering of the course. The rail will be positioned for the first time this meet in lane 2, which is about 22 feet out, around the far turn and at 0 the remainder of the course. The track also has drained much of the infield pond to maximize water management, that water being detoured into a cornfield away from the course.

Quiet Business can make noise in Ramsey Farm

Quiet Business, winner of Keeneland’s Grade 3, 1 1/2-mile Bewitch Stakes for owner-breeder Calumet Farm, seeks a second stakes triumph in the Ramsey Farm.

“She’s been a pretty consistent filly, actually,” said Jack Bohannan, the Churchill Downs-based assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold, adding of an eighth-place finish in New York’s River Memories Stakes, “She went up to Belmont and didn’t run very well, and I don’t know why. But before that she’d been very consistent and the farther the better for her.”

Even so, Quiet Business only lost the River Memories by a total of four lengths. “She’s coming into this race really well,” Bohannan said. “I’m excited to run her.”

Brian Hernandez, aboard for all three of the 4-year-old filly’s victories, is back in the saddle.

All Right seeks another big payoff at Kentucky Downs

There were no stakes scratches reported at Wednesday’s 9 a.m. scratch time. That includes Major Munnings in the Franklin-Simpson, though trainer Jinks Fires said he did not plan to run. However, stakes horses can be scratched later.

All Right, last year’s $90 winner of the Kentucky Downs Juvenile as a maiden making his second start, is the longest shot in the morning line at 30-1 in the Franklin-Simpson. But there’s reason to like the gelding. Including that he was gelded upon his return to Kentucky from trainer Kellyn Gorder’s Arkansas base.

All Right also is being reunited with Channing Hill, aboard for his victory at 44-1 last year at Kentucky Downs. He comes in off a sparking five-eighths of a mile workout at Keeneland and is cutting back in distance. Gorder abandoned a four-race experiment trying to make All Right a dirt horse. Going a mile or shorter on grass, All Right has two wins and a close second in his debut at Ellis Park last summer.

“He’s probably not going to get a lot of respect, but that’s OK,” Gorder said. “I kind of messed up when I tried to make a dirt horse out of a turf horse. He lost his way a little bit and had a few nagging issues. After those two races at Oaklawn, I sent him back home and we gelded him, turned him out. Even training on dirt, he had some issues where he was hitting himself. I feel like we’ve cleaned that up a bit and hopefully we have him good for Thursday. I’m looking forward to seeing him back on that course. That’s his distance.”

In his last two starts, All Right easily won an allowance race at Belterra (formerly River Downs), then gave way to fourth after setting the pace in a 1 1/16-mile Churchill Downs allowance race won by Parlor. That’s the horse All Right beat by a neck in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile and who was second by three-quarters of a length in Sunday’s Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby.

“We’re excited to go down there,” said Gorder, who trains the $20,000 2-year-old purchase for William K. Helwig of Owensboro and Brent Gasaway of Little Rock, Ark.

Handicapping tidbits from ace analyst Gary West

The first four days of the Kentucky Downs season have been unkind to the betting favorites. In 40 races, only nine have won, or 22.5 percent.

When jockey Jon Court and Over Thinking won last Thursday’s fifth race, they triggered some eye-popping record payoffs. Over Thinking concluded a Pick Four that returned $104,507. And she sat atop a superfecta that paid $49,365 — for 10 cents.

Aktabantay, who’s 6-1 in Thursday’s third race, raced in England and France as a 2-year-old and originally came here for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

How strong is breeding as a handicapping factor? Well, it could get a test in Thursday’s fourth race, where Last Promise Kept makes the second start of her career. She’s out of a mare named Dash of Humor, who won the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Cup in 2006.

When Ultima D won the Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies Stakes on opening day, she became the first horse since 2014 to lead throughout at the seven-furlong distance. Could Major Munnings become the second (provided trainer Jinks Fires changes his mind and doesn't scratch)? The speedster who’s unbeaten in two races is 9-2 in the Franklin-Simpson Stakes, where he’d take on American Derby winner Sonic Boom.

Thursday's Ramsey Farm Stakes has attracted an outstanding field that includes eight stakes winners, including two, of course, owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey: Kitten’s Roar (by their top stallion Kitten's Joy) and Daring Duchess.

Kentucky Downs by the numbers

Kentucky Downs will add to its record meet throughout Thursday’s card, having already toppled the five-day betting record in the first four days. Here are the numbers comparisons:

2017
Day 1: $4,633,176.29 (A Wednesday)
Day 2: $5,402,254.66
Day 3: $8,487,323.27 (single-day record)
Day 4: $6,044,717.15 (second-highest all-time)
Total so far: $24,567,471.37

2016:
Day 1: $4,603,239.82 (A Saturday)
Day 2: $4,019,637.14
Day 3: $5,769,505.23 (previous record day)
Day 4: $4,487,790.40
Day 5: $3,660,588.63
2016 total: $22,540,761.22

Franklin-Simpson Stakes
Post time: Thursday at 4:46 p.m. (Race 8) Central. Purse: $250,000 ($125,000 KTDF). Distance: seven furlongs on turf.
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer odds
1 Secretary at War (124) Albarado/Jerkens 4-1
2 Major Munnings (118) Court/Fires 9-2
3 Benefactor (118) Gaffalione/Maker 15-1
4 Master Merion (118) Garcia/Ward 5-1
5 Kitten’s Cat (124) J. Ortiz/Maker 5-1
6 All Right (s) (124) Hill/Gorder 30-1
7 Siem Riep (118) Lynch/Colebrook 30-1
8 Holiday Stone (118) Geroux/Weaver 8-1
9 Sonic Boom (124) Leparoux/Wilkes 3-1
blinkers on: Benefactor

The Ramsey Farm Stakes
Post time: Thursday at 5:14 p.m. Central (Race 9). Purse: $350,000 ($200,000 KTDF). Distance: 1 5/16 miles on turf.
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer odds
1 Sister Blues (121) Bridgmohan/Cox 15-1
2 Tricky Escape (125) DeCarlo/Ashby 8-1
3 Paige (121) Graham/Clement 10-1
4 Kitten’s Roar (125) J. Ortiz/Maker 2-1
5 Quiet Business (125) Hernandez/Arnold 15-1
6 Queen Blossom (121) Lynch/Motion 8-1
7 Place Des Vosges (123) Leparoux/Baltas 8-1
8 Daring Duchess (125) Gaffalione/Maker 6-1
9 Sweet Tapper (121) Landeros/Wilkes 15-1
10 Gotachancetodance (121) Cannon/Kenneally 12-1
11 La Piba (125) Geroux/Cox 8-1
KTDF-Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund