The action never let up at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with the victory of the returning star juvenile Jack Christopher in the G2 Pat Day Mile one of the highlights of the whole weekend. He was completing a Derby-day double for trainer Chad Brown, who was also on the mark with the impressive Speak Of The Devil in the G2 Distaff Turf Mile. Stolen Base, who ran behind upset Derby winner Rich Strike on his previous start, grabbed his turn in the limelight when landing the G2 American Turf.
Pat Day Mile Stakes – Grade 2
Jack’s name is back in lights
Jack’s back. His connections might be ruing the fact that his return at Churchill Downs on Saturday was five races and five hours earlier than they had once hoped, but the victory of Jack Christopher in the Pat Day Mile rekindled those hopes for the future.
The broad-blazed Munnings colt was favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a strong fancy for the Kentucky Derby, but a shin injury ruled him out of both and this was his first start since early October. Yet it was as though he’d never been away, as Jack Christopher extended his unbeaten record to three with a thoroughly impressive performance.
It turned into a two-horse race; Pappacap set sharp fractions on the lead with Jack Christopher at his heels until the positions were reversed as they circled the turn, and from there on in it was all about Jack Christopher as the 3-5 favourite cleared away under Jose Ortiz to win by three and three-quarter lengths in 1:34 and four-fifths. Pappacap, for whom this was a return to something like his best form, kept running and held on to the silver medal by a head from My Prankster.
“It is what it is,” said Chad Brown, mulling over the missed opportunities on what was nevertheless a magnificent weekend for the trainer, who won six Graded races across Churchill Downs and Belmont Park. “But we still have a great horse on our hands. I won’t say he’d definitely go a mile and a quarter, but I think he’ll go further than a mile.”
Jack Christopher already has a G1 to his name after his victory in the Champagne at Belmont, and it’s possible he’ll return to the ‘Big Sandy’ for the G1 Woody Stephens on June 11, although that’s a seven-furlong heat. The nine-furlong G1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in late July is also a possibility further down the road.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes – Grade 2
Devil’s a hell of a mare
An hour earlier, Chad Brown had unveiled yet another potential top-notcher when French import Speak Of The Devil left a deep impression on her debut Stateside, leading home a Brown one-two in the Distaff Turf Mile.
Speak Of The Devil was a four-time stakes winner and had been G1-placed in her native country at three and four, but she looked a little ill at ease in the early stages here, bringing up the rear under Flavien Prat as barnmate In Italian – in the same Peter Brant green silks – led the way with workaday fractions.
That all changed around the turn, as the even-money favourite came with a swooping, looping run around the outside to take the lead at the top of the lane, and although In Italian dug in she had no answer as Speak Of The Devil drew off in some style to win by two and three-quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:37 and one-half. Wakanaka was third, three lengths further back.
“She’s always been training well, every week getting better and better,” said Brown. “Every week I just couldn’t believe the coat on her and the weight on her. She certainly looks as though she’ll stretch out beyond a mile – she looked like a tiger when we took her off the van here.”
So tigerish that she bolted before the start, although Prat – with the assistance of an outrider – soon had her under control. Next stop for Speak Of The Devil – now on a winning streak of three – is carded to be either the G1 Just A Game at Belmont Park over a mile on June 11 or the nine-furlong G1 Diana at Saratoga the following month, depending on the schedule for the other members of Brown’s vast army of female turf stars.
American Turf Stakes – Grade 2
Stolen Base wins the pennant
In the perfect rear-view mirror of hindsight, the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park now looks like a top-notch race. Third-placed Rich Strike shocked the world when winning the Kentucky Derby, runner-up Tawny Port came home seventh in the ‘Roses’, and a little earlier seventh-placed Stolen Base did his bit for the value of the form when taking down the American Turf, snapping a seven-race losing streak with his first win in stakes company.
The Bodemeister colt appreciated the return to turf after the Turfway synthetic, sitting in mid-division under Flavien Prat as Dowagiac Chief led the way until making a move on the turn, coming four wide and taking the lead at the top of the lane.
The 5-1 chance was immediately challenged on the outside by Balnikhov and the pair duelled through mid-stretch, but Stolen Base buckled down gamely and put that rival away before moving on to hit the line a length and a quarter clear, with the hitherto unbeaten favourite Sy Dog rallying late but only enough for third, a length further back. The clock showed 1:44 and one-half.
“He’s a tough horse, he shows up every time,” said trainer Mike Maker. “Last time [in the Jeff Ruby Steaks] he was battling a minor illness, so we just had to cross that last race out. I was expecting a big effort today.”
Stolen Base showed useful form on turf last year, chasing home Tiz The Bomb in the G2 Bourbon at Keeneland in October, and his future lies on the weeds with the G2 Pennine Ridge at Belmont Park on June 4 and the $1m G1 Belmont Derby Invitational on July 9 – the first leg of the New York Turf Triple – his likely early summer targets.
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