After taking a few days to consider the events of 21 racing days during the 2012 Churchill Downs Fall Meet, it’s time to list the stars – both four-legged and bipeds – and best moments the meet had to offer.
Once this task is complete, we’ll resume the countdown to Kentucky Derby and Oaks 139, which will have dipped beneath 150 days by the time you complete this piece. The only problem is whittling down the list of stars, as the brief meet had some really wonderful moments.
But here’s our best attempt:
Race of the Meet: 138th running of the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare – Shackleford, winner of the 2011 Preakness and 2012 Metropolitan Mile, ended his racing career with a front-running victory win over a pair of good 3-year-olds in Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy and West Virginia Derby winner Bourbon Courage.
The victory was the first for trainer Dale Romans in one of the tradition-rich Grade I races that date back to the inaugural 1875 meeting at his hometown track. It was a fitting reunion with Churchill Downs-based rider Jesus Castanon, who lost the mount on Shack this spring when the rider was sidelined by injury.
Special honors to: Daisy Devine edged Julie’s Love by a head in the Grade II Cardinal for older fillies and mares on turf and a victory by the same margin by Brushed by a Star over Joyful Victory in the Grade II Chilukki.
Top Trainer: Though he tied with Ken McPeek for “leading trainer” honors in the meet, this nod goes to Romans, who collected his third Fall Meet training title and his 10th overall. He also won the Falls City, another race that dates to the 1875 Kentucky Jockey Club meet, with Afleeting Lady, an older half-sister to Shackleford.
Romans now has 576 career wins at Churchill Downs, which ranks second to all-time leader Bill Mott’s 667 wins beneath the Twin Spires – a margin that is shrinking as quickly as the increasingly-svelte Romans’ waistline.
Special Honors to: McPeek, who rebounded from an unusually chilly Keeneland meet to tie for the title; Al Stall Jr., whose 11 wins in 27 races included a pair of stakes races; Alex Clarkson, whose four wins in eight races included a pair of victories by rising star Keep Up that included the closing day River City Handicap; and 77-year-old veteran Forrest Kaelin, who collected four wins in nine races.
Top Jockey: Corey Lanerie – A no-brainer here as the Louisiana native who entered the year with no Churchill Downs riding titles to his credit exited 2012 with a commanding sweep of the Spring and Fall riding crowns.
Special Honors to: Joe Rocco, who won 21 races in his first Churchill Downs meeting to finish third to Lanerie; Miguel Mena, whose 19 wins included four stakes victories and a sweep of the last three stakes events of the meet (Kentucky Jockey Club, Golden Rod and River City); and Brian Hernandez Jr., who won 16 races in another strong meet. Hernandez deserves special mention for his beautiful ride aboard Fort Larned in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita – easily the biggest win for the ascending career of another fine product of Cajun Country.
Top Owner: There was a four-way tie for the leading owner title, but the nod goes to Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The partnership’s four victories made it part of the leading quartet, but stakes wins by Sign in the Grade II Pocahontas and Lea in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf pulled the legendary orange silks of Claiborne within a single win of tying Calumet Farm, another Bluegrass legend, for the lead in all-time stakes victories beneath the Twin Spires.
WOW – No other word adequately describes the track-record performance at Churchill Downs’ one-turn mile distance by Z Thoroughbreds LLC’s Infrattini on Thanksgiving Day. The 4-year-old gelding covered the distance over fast footing in 1:33.31 to eclipse the previous standard of 1:33.57 set by Chilukki in the 2000 running of the Churchill Downs Distaff, a race now named in her honor. Big things could be looming in 2013 for the Paul McGee-trained Infrattini, who has won three straight races over three different tracks.
Now let’s look ahead, which is a natural thing to do given that so many Fall Meet 2012 highlights were provided by 2-year-olds, the horses that will be Oaks and Derby candidates next spring. It’s always the most exciting division of the meet. Here’s one man’s list of the most exciting juveniles to race beneath the Twin Spires during the 21 days of fall racing:
- Dewey Square – Romans-trained son of Bernardini won on opening day and was a most-intriguing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He could develop into his trainer’s best Kentucky Derby hope to date.
- Uncaptured – won the Iroquois and Kentucky Jockey Club (“KJC”) for owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse. Questions about his ability at 1 ¼-miles, but love that Arch is on the bottom of his pedigree.
- Titletown Five – Made a so-so track look fast in a maiden romp on the meet’s opening day, but the Derby hope of Hall of Fame team of owner Paul Hornung and trainer D. Wayne Lukas was knocked out of KJC by injury.
- Frac Daddy – Dazzling debut win and a gritty runner-up in KJC for McPeek.
- General Election – Very impressive career debut for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
- Sign – Claiborne-Dilschneider filly did much wrong in Pocahontas and still won. Claiborne has never won the Oaks, but this Pulpit filly could have the goods.
- Gulfport – Unbridled’s Song colt is 2-1-0 for Romans in three Churchill starts.
- Bradester – beaten a mile by No. 3 in debut, but whipped the rest of the field by a similar margin. Romped in next start for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
- Positively – nowhere to be found in KJC after breaking from miserable post, but previous part of stakes outings for trainer Patrick Byrne were promising.
- Pure Fun – Not sure where her effort came from after six so-so races, but the allowance win on 11/24 for McPeek’s Pure Prize filly was a dazzler.
Photos Courtesy Of Reed Palmer Photography | Churchill Downs