Though much of the attention on Sunday’s $ 75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile and Ellis Park Debutante has centered on the Kenny McPeek-trained favorites Ten City and Sunny Skies, the capacity fields for both stakes are well-stocked with promising 2-year-olds.
“It came up pretty tough,” said Dale Romans, trainer of the Juvenile’s 3-1 second choice, Churchill Downs debut winner Dak Attack. “It’s a good race. You’ve always got to pay attention to Steve Asmussen’s horses. And Bernie Flint’s horse that won so impressively down there is a nice horse. You better pay attention to Jack Van Berg at Ellis Park. He’s come to life down there.”
“Ten City is a good horse. He’s run two really good races, and run fast. You win a stakes at Churchill, you ought to be favored in a stakes at Ellis. I hope we can beat him, but it would be no disgrace to lose to him. It’s a quality field of horses. I think we have a true quality horse and hopefully he runs to what I think he is.”
As much as anyone, McPeek and Romans have long talked up the advantages of running 2-year-olds at Ellis Park. Have they done too good a job promoting Ellis?
“I hope we have,” Romans said from Saratoga. “Looks like they’re having a breakthrough meet this year. Yeah, it’s definitely tougher than five years ago, and I hope that we’ve had something to do with it.”
Asmussen, the Hall of Famer trainer of Copper Bullet, won last year’s EP Juvenile with Lookin At Lee, who went on to be second in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Asmussen is sending out the duo of Private Vigilante, a three-length winner of his July 30 debut at Ellis, and Orbatron, a son of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb who is 0 for 3 but has run well in those starts. Orbatron has the same owner as Lookin At Lee in L and N Racing.
“It’s obviously a stiff race, with the Bashford Manor winner being in there, along with a couple of very impressive maiden winners,” said Asmussen, who also has Laudation in the Debutante. “Private Vigilante only having one race, I am a little concerned with his lack of experience — but not with his talent. Orbatron benefits from some lightly raced maiden winners with him having some experience and feeling that distance is going to help him considerably. There is a lot of similarities between Orbatron right now and Looking at Lee last year. But it’s what direction you go, and do you move forward or not? I think he’s a horse that will benefit from a little more pace. When you’re in a race of this quality, that generally happens.”
Trainer Bernie Flint also is sending out a twosome in Big Iron, who in his second start won a July 15 maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths, and Undercover Lover, also winner of his second start July 28 at Indiana Grand in a five-eighths of a mile race that came off the turf.
“They’re both nice horses,” Flint said. “I’m looking down the road, mainly. That’s hard to say, when one is $ 6,000 and one $ 12,000. But it’s not necessarily what you pay for one how good they’re going to be.”
Indeed, while you couldn’t buy them for those prices now, Ten City sold as a yearling for $ 12,000. The Juvenile also includes Holding Fast ($ 6,000), Northern Trail ($ 15,000), Make Noise ($ 22,000) and Ebben ($ 25,000). Dak Attack is the one bought with the idea of being a top horse, at $ 625,000, with Private Vigilante $ 180,000 and Orbatron $ 100,000.
Make Noise can continue a big meet for Jack Van Berg, who trained 1987 Kentucky Derby winner and 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba. The Hall of Famer has won 8 of 21 starts at the meet, including a front-running win over Orbatron and a grass maiden race with Northern Trail, also in front-running style.
Sunny Skies, the Ellis Park Debutante’s 9-5 favorite, won Churchill Downs’ Debutante after her stablemate took the Bashford Manor after an hour’s delay brought on by a bad storm. Other promising fillies in that field of 13 (with the Van Berg-trained My Peeps needing a scratch to run) include the top three finishers in the Churchill Downs stakes: runner-up Upset Brewing and third-place Waki Patriot, the latter one of three horses entered by trainer John Hancock.
Upset Brewing, owned by Madisonville’s Chester Thomas, is the 7-2 second choice. She is coming off a 9 3/4-length maiden victory at Ellis after the Debutante. Trainer Buff Bradley thinks the filly is the type to go to the next level.
“She’s got it together upstairs, and that’s a big part of it,” Bradley said. “If you have ability and don’t have it upstairs, sometimes it doesn’t pan out.”
Other impressive maiden winners in the Debutante field include Kelly’s Humor from the barn of meet-leading trainer Brad Cox, and Flight Queen, whom trainer Bret Calhoun shipped up from his Texas division. One of the fastest horses in the field is 30-1 Mauk’s Tuff, who won a July 16 maiden race at 22-1 and who will break from the rail over a track where inside speed has done well.
“It’s good to see how the interest in these stakes has exploded,” said Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork. “Last year we did well to get six horses in the Juvenile, including a filly, with the race scratching down to five starters. This year we brought back the Ellis Park Debutante for the fillies after a nine-year absence, and both races drew full fields. I’m thrilled, and it’s gratifying to see all the Kentucky horsemen supporting the Ellis program.
“With trainers such as Steve Asmussen, Kenny McPeek and Dale Romans publicly extolling Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program, the word certainly has been spreading that this is a good, safe place to develop a young horse. To have Lookin at Lee finish second in the Derby provided a huge endorsement for the stakes. So is getting the winners of Churchill Downs’ Bashford Manor and Debutante. A few years ago, those horses automatically would have been on their way to Saratoga for their next start.”
(Photos below: top left: Robby Albarado guides Dak Attack to a debut win at Churchill Downs. top right: Shaun Bridgmohan guides Private Vigilante to a debut win at Ellis Park. Bottom: Albarado wins the Bashford Manor on Ten City but rides Dak Attack in the EP Juvenile. All photos credit Coady Photography)
Ellis Park Debutante
Purse: $ 75,000. Distance: seven furlongs. Post time: Sunday at 3:40 p.m. CT(seventh race)
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer odds
1 Mauk’s Tuff (120) Gazader/Mauk 30-1
2 Flight Queen (120) Hernandez/Calhoun 10-1
3 Waki Patriot (120) Court/Hancock 8-1
4 Laudation (120) G. Saez/Asmussen 8-1
5 Amberspatriot (120) McMahon/Hancock 12-1
6 Noblame (120) Landeros/Sharp 20-1
7 Kelly’s Humor (120) Bridgmohan/Cox 12-1
8 Sunny Skies (122) Albarado/McPeek 9-5
9 Lullingstone (118) Borel/Hancock 30-1
10 Crossed (120) Pedroza/Garcia 30-1
11 On the Hop (120) Rocco/Scott 12-1
12 Upset Brewing (120) Lanerie/Bradley 7-2
13 A.E. My Peeps (118) A. Quinonez/Van Berg 30-1
A.E. — Also-eligible; needs scratch to run
Ellis Park Juvenile
Purse: $ 75,000. Distance: seven furlongs. Post time: Sunday at 4:10 p.m. CT(eighth race)
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer odds
1 Trenton Traveler (118) Cannon/Lightner 30-1
2 Undercover Lover (120) Pedroza/Flint 30-1
3 Orbatron (118) Lanerie/Asmussen 12-1
4 Make Noise (120) Court/Van Berg 12-1
5 Big Iron (120) G. Saez/Flint 8-1
6 Private Vigilante (120) Bridgmohan/Asmussen 8-1
7 Ten City (122) Gilligan/McPeek 8-5
8 Ebben (120) Hernandez/Margolis 10-1
9 Mugrosito (120) Figueroa/Castaneda 50-1
10 Holding Fast (118) A. Martinez/K. Martinez 50-1
11 Northern Trail (120) Hill/Van Berg 15-1
12 Dak Attack (120) Albarado/Romans 3-1
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