Trainer Buff Bradley put The Player in Sunday’s $ 42,000 Ellis Park allowance feature with the intention of getting a confidence boost in the 4-year-old colt’s third start off a year’s layoff. Mission accomplished as The Player took command through the stretch for a two-length victory over Shut the Box.
The Player pushed the pace before taking control at the quarter pole, motoring the mile under Brian Hernandez Jr. in1:35.16, not far off the track record of 1:34.41, while covering the last eighth-mile in 12.18 seconds with the victory in hand. He paid $ 3 to win as the 1-2 favorite. Shut the Box, with meet-leading rider Corey Lanerie aboard, finished well to finish another six lengths in front of Discreetness in the field of seven.
“I rode him for the first time last time in the race in West Virginia and he seemed to struggle with the track,” Hernandez said, referencing a sixth-place finish in a stakes at Mountaineer Park. “That day he got aggressive down the backside with me. Today he settled in a nice rhythm, what I was hoping he’d do. He got outside those horses and floated along really, really nicely. And he did his job today. He handled those horses fairly easily. I was in second gear more than anything. The whole way around there he always had confidence in himself. Even when Shut the Box came to him, he heard him and spurted on a little bit and went on and galloped out well.”
“We thought he was running pretty well, and he was three-fifths of a second off the track record,” said Bradley, who also is the co-owner of The Player with Carl Hurst, as well as the breeder of the horse with Hurst and Bradley’s late father, Fred. “Brian just rode him perfectly. On the outside and he knew he had them whenever he wanted to go to them.”
The Player stamped himself as a player when he won two races during Churchill Downs’ 2016 spring meet and then was a close second in the 2016 Indiana Derby won by Cupid. The Player came out with some bone bruising, however, and was off almost a year. In two starts back he was third in Churchill’s seven-furlong Kelly’s Landing and sixth Mountaineer’s West Virginia Derby.
“This was our confidence-booster for him,” Bradley said. “We really need to get him back on track. He’s had a couple of races, but the last race we knew he didn’t like the track. The race before that, he got stuck down between horses and never really had a good trip. I think he’s back on track now, and he needed that.”
Bradley said the Sept. 30, $ 100,000 Ack Ack, a Grade 3 stakes also at a mile, is a likely target. A big effort there could put the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile into consideration.
The Player not only has a unique, playful personality, including sitting on his haunches like a dog, but he also is special to his owners as one of the last horses bred by Fred Bradley, Hurst’s long-time friend and a legal colleague who grew up near Ellis Park.
“It is nice to have a horse like that, raised by our family,” Buff Bradley said.
Said Hurst, who now lives in Louisville but is from nearby Madisonville: “He played the race the way we thought he should and the way he runs best. Hopefully it will help him more than it will help any of us. Any win is a good one. It’s all exciting. So we’re tickled to death.”
Lanerie and Jon Court both won two races, with Lanerie now having a 33-26 lead in wins for the jockeys title with three racing days remaining. Court won both his races for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, aboard Gray Ransom in the first race for $ 5,000 claimers and the 3-year-old filly Cara Blythe in an allowance race.
Van Berg now is 12 for 33 at the meet, putting him in third in the standings behind Brad Cox and 2016 meet-leader Steve Asmussen, who have 16 victories apiece after Cox pulled back in a tie by taking the seventh race for maidens with the Lanerie-ridden Mrs Rocco.
Ellis Park will race Friday, then be dark Saturday to accommodate the opener of Kentucky Downs. Ellis closes out its 2017 meet with live racing next Sunday and Labor Day, Monday.
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