Sunny Skies became the first stakes winner for her sire, Animal Kingdom, when she took the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs
Trainer Kenny McPeek took both of Churchill Downs’ closing-night stakes for 2-year-olds with the colt Ten City and the filly Sunny Skies and now shoots for a sweep repeat in Sunday’s $ 75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile and Ellis Park Debutante.
Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Bashford Manor winner Ten City is the anticipated favorite in the seven-furlong Juvenile, which attracted a capacity field of 12 Thursday. Sunny Skies, winner of Churchill’s Debutante, could also be favored in the Ellis Park Debutante, for which there were 13 entries, with My Peeps needing a scratch to run.
Upset Brewing, a troubled second in the Debutante at Churchill who subsequently took an Ellis maiden race by 9 3/4 lengths, could compete with Sunny Skies to be the shortest-priced filly in the Ellis stakes. Bettors might be scared off by Upset Brewing’s No. 12 post, though there is a long run to the turn and there also could be defections that get her a starting position closer to the rail. But the fact that Upset Brewing is owned by 2016 Ellis leading owner Chester Thomas of nearby Madisonville could drive down Upset Brewing’s odds in her rematch with Sunny Skies. Waki Patriot, third in the Debutante that was delayed an hour when a storm hit while the horses were in the paddock, also is running in the Ellis stakes.
McPeek originally planned to train his dynamic duo of bombastic babies up to Churchill’s Grade 3 Iroquois and Grade 2 Pocahontas, both 1 1/16-mile stakes part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, whose winners earn automatic berths in and a travel stipend for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.
“They’ve been working together and been doing really well,” McPeek said from Saratoga. “My assistant there at Keeneland said, ‘I don’t know if I can sit on these horses for another month.’ We collectively decided it would just be best to run them. We still have a month coming back to the Churchill races. And it looks like both horses have a pretty good chance.
“Anything can happen in a horse race. We all know that. I mean, last year I was the favorite in the Ellis Park Juvenile with (third place) Honor Thy Father, and Lookin At Lee beat me. Lookin At Lee goes on and places in some of the Triple Crown races.”
Still, McPeek says Ten City “might be one of the best I’ve ever had my hands on” and uses the word “special” to describe Normandy Farm’s Sunny Skies, a daughter of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom who won her debut at Keeneland by nine lengths before taking the Churchill stakes.
“We’re fortunate,” McPeek said. “We get a lot of young horses every spring, and some years we have a better group than others. This seems like an exceptional group. The horse that won at Saratoga the other day, Oskar Blues (in excellent time at 33-1 odds), is going in the Hopeful. Someone questioned me on Twitter why wouldn’t you run Ten City in the Hopeful? I just felt like keeping him at home. He’s in his routine; the same guy gets on him. Now I’ve got a horse for the Hopeful anyway. Keeping those two, especially, around Kentucky just seemed to be the best for them right now.”
And part of that, he admits, is because the ultimate objective for Ten City is the Kentucky Derby and for Sunny Skies the Kentucky Oaks back at Churchill Downs.
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
Mauk’s Tuff (120) Gazader/Mauk
Flight Queen (120) Hernandez/Calhoun
Waki Patriot (120) Court/Hancock
Laudation (120) G. Saez/Asmussen
Amberspatriot (120) McMahon/Hancock
Noblame (120) Landeros/Sharp
Kelly’s Humor (120) Bridgmohan/Cox
Sunny Skies (122) Albarado/McPeek
Lullingstone (118) Borel/Hancock
Crossed (120) Pedroza/Garcia
On the Hop (120) Rocco/Scott
Upset Brewing (120) Lanerie/Bradley
A.E. My Peeps (118) A. Quinonez/Van Berg
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
Trenton Traveler (118) Cannon/Lightner
Undercover Lover (120) Pedroza/Flint
Orbatron (118) Lanerie/Asmussen
Make Noise (120) Court/Van Berg
Big Iron (120) G. Saez/Flint
Private Vigilante (120) Bridgmohan/Asmussen
Ten City (122) Gilligan/McPeek
Ebben (120) Hernandez/Margolis
Mugrosito (120) Figueroa/Castaneda
Holding Fast (118) A. Martinez/K. Martinez
Northern Trail (120) Hill/Van Berg
Dak Attack (120) Albarado/Romans
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