Two-year-olds were the order of the day at Churchill Downs on Saturday, with Smile Happy running himself into contention for next year’s classics with an impressive victory in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Dream Lith did the same in the distaff Grade 2 Golden Rod, while the speed angle was covered by Tejano Twist and Marissa’s Lady in the stakes sprints Lively Shively and Fern Creek.
G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
Smile keeps McPeek happy
Kenny McPeek strengthened his hand for next year’s Kentucky Derby when Smile Happy overcame inexperience and strong opposition to post a dominant victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club, the feature event at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The son of Runhappy, the 9-2 third choice in the pools, was making just his second start after winning a Keeneland maiden but went around the track like an old hand in a race reduced by three scratches, notably stablemate and morning-line favourite Tiz The Bomb.
Smile Happy sat a few lengths back as Howling Time set standard fractions, moved up to challenge four wide as they exited the turn and went to the lead at the eighth pole. He soon drew clear, widening his advantage all the way to the wire, getting home by three and a quarter lengths and stopping the clock in a tick under 1:44. Classic Causeway kept on doggedly for second place, while White Abarrio finished off his race well for third, two and three-quarter lengths back.
“You’d think this horse ran ten times already with how mature he acts,” said jockey Corey Lanerie. “At the half-mile pole I could tell I had a lot of horse beneath me and he really kicked clear in the stretch. He’s got a bright future.”
The unbeaten Smile Happy earned ten points for this win on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which brings him level in the standings with barnmate and Grade 1 winner Rattle N Roll, both horses owned by the Mackin family’s Lucky Seven Stable. McPeek now has the enviable task of plotting a path back to Churchill Downs in May with three contenders, including the absentee Tiz The Bomb, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
“We’ll take it easy with him now and start deciding his future in February,” said McPeek. “At this stage we have a lot of options on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a good problem to have.”
Road to the Kentucky Derby points standings (next race Remsen Stakes, Dec 4)
12 Pappacap 10 Jack Christopher, Major General, Rattle N Roll, Smile Happy 6 Classic Causeway, Commandperformance 4 Double Thunder, Giant Game, Tough To Tame 2 Oviatt Class, Red Knobs, White Abarrio, Wit 1 American Sanctuary, Ben Diesel, Bourbon Heist, My Prankster.
Golden Rod Stakes
Golden day for Dream Lith
A drop in class proved crucial for Dream Lith, who burst a few bubbles when returning to winning form in the Golden Rod, the highlight of Saturday’s undercard.
Defeat in the Grade 1 Spinaway and Alcibiades, following a debut Saratoga score, seemed to peg the Robertino Diodoro-trained filly as a little below the required standard, but she bounced right back with an impressive display of stretch-running.
Yuugiri had set only modest fractions on the lead and was still in front at the eighth pole, but Dream Lith was coming strong down the centre of the track and collared the front-runner with a sixteenth to travel. She won going away by a length, stopping the clock in 1:44 and three-fifths, paying out at $20.20. Yuugiri had enough to keep second, while odds-on favourite Sandstone was a disappointing third and Famed, a half-sister to Essential Quality, a never-dangerous fourth.
“I got her into a comfortable rhythm and just let her do her thing,” said rider Ramon Vazquez. “I knew I had a lot of horse and I was confident she’d be able to fight in the stretch. She has a good future.”
The daughter of Medaglia D’Oro earned ten points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, and in doing so paid a handsome compliment to ‘Road leader’ Echo Zulu, who dished out a sound beating to Dream Lith in the Spinaway, and to her Alcibiades conqueror Juju’s Map.
Road to the Kentucky Oaks points standings (next races Demoiselle, Starlet Dec 4)
30 Echo Zulu 18 Juju’s Map 12 Hidden Connection 10 Ain’t Easy, Dream Lith 5 Mama Rina 4 Distinctlypossible, Gerrymander, Tarabi, Yuugiri 2 A Mo Reay, Desert Dawn, Goddess Of Fire, Sandstone, Sequist 1 Code For Success, Famed, Magic Circle
Lively Shively Stakes
Twist makes it stick this time
Third time was the charm for Tejano Twist, who got his first score in stakes company after two near misses when winning the inaugural running of the Lively Shively.
The Bret Calhoun-trained gelding took his record to three-for-eight when coming out best in a stretch duel with Barber Road, getting the measure of his rival inside the last sixteenth to win by half a length in a time of 1:16 and four-fifths. Cool Papa G was third, a length and three-quarters away.
“He’s really figured things out this summer,” said jockey Joe Rocco of the 6-5 favourite. “Horses like him are really fun to ride, he keeps improving.”
Fern Creek Stakes
Lady shows her speed
Marissa’s Lady maintained her unbeaten record when seeing off all-comers in the inaugural running of the Fern Creek, both her victories now coming under the twin spires.
Quickly away under Rafael Bejarano, Marissa’s Lady sat just off the pace set by Verylittlecents, put that one away at the top of the lane and then kept on strongly to turn back the challenge of the favourite Matareya by a length, stopping the clock in 1:16 and four-fifths as the 3-1 third-favourite. Sweet Dani Girl came home third, two and a half lengths back.
“Every horse we put her with in the mornings she’d beat,” said trainer William Morey. “I think she may stretch out in future but we’ll take it one step at a time.”
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