Remembering a special meet

| December 5, 2011
John Asher

John Asher

Churchill Downs’ 21-day Fall Meet always zips past with amazing speed, but the just-completed session created plenty of memories and provided many reasons to anticipate the weeks leading up to Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks 138 next spring.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships helped kick off the show with the event’s record eighth visit to the home of the Derby.

Two days of racing were packed with many wonderful performances and plenty of upsets.

For my money, the most memorable runs came on Friday, when My Miss Aurelia toyed with her rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Royal Delta cruised in the Ladies’ Classic.

Caleb’s Posse impressed on Saturday, and it was enjoyable to see Drosselmeyer complete his career with a win in the Classic for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Down.

The Cup seemed to lack the usual Personal Ensign or Arazi-style magic moment to which we’ve become accustomed when the event is played out beneath the Twin Spires, but there’s a good chance I’m simply spoiled.

MISSES ONE DAY:
Speaking strictly for myself and not my employer, I do know this: the two-day format is fun, but I missed the old single-day format for the Breeders’ Cup races.

What appeared to be the most notable moments in this corner came outside of the Breeders’ Cup program, and the meet’s best performance came on the closing weekend.

Here’s one individual’s view of the top performers and moments:

RACE OF THE MEET:
The victory by Wise Dan in the 137th Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare – The gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry is unlikely to get any votes for Horse of the Year in 2011, but his star-making romp in the Clark makes him clear horse-to-watch for 2012.

Wise Dan dominated a field in the Clark that was one of the strongest of the year in a Grade I race for older horses, and in doing so eased the yearlong frustration for owner Morton Fink and trainer Charles Lopresti that grew out of the disqualification of his older half-brother, Successful Dan, from the same race a year earlier.

The versatile Wise Dan emerged as a sprinter last year and was beaten by fewer than three lengths in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

This year he won the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in his first race on grass and took a pair of stakes races on synthetic surfaces at Keeneland and Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs.

Runner-up: The Mrs. Revere victory by Marketing Mix – Trainer Tom Proctor’s filly toyed with her opponents in a race for 3-year-old fillies on grass. She’ll be a force for owner Glen Hill Farm in the New Year.

TRAINER OF THE MEET:
Mott – The South Dakota native has long been the all-time win leader and top stakes winner at Churchill Downs, but his impressive Fall Meet was one of the strongest at Churchill Downs in recent years. Aside from his two Breeders’ Cup wins, the Mott barn took the Falls City and Cardinal Handicaps among its nine wins from 22 starters. The meet was a highlight in what could very well be an Eclipse Award championship year for the 58-year-old Mott.

JOCKEY OF THE MEET:
Brian Hernandez Jr. —Sure, Julien Leparoux rode 34 winners and earned his fifth consecutive fall riding title and his ninth overall, but the resurgent Hernandez emerged as a factor again in the ultra-tough Churchill Downs jockey colony.

His 12 wins were good for a sixth-place finish in the “leading rider” race and his average win mutuel was $24.70.

OWNER OF THE MEET:
The honor for quantity goes to leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who won 12 races from 45 starters — with the last number being especially appreciated in a meet in which the average number of horses per race was 9.38 — the lowest in a decade.

For quantity, the honor goes to WinStar Farm, which won three of six races that included Drosselmeyer’s Breeders’ Cup Classic wins and a pair of victories by the 2-year-old Gemologist, one of the early favorites for Kentucky Derby 138 whose pair of Fall Meet wins included the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

TOP FIVE FALL MEET 2-YEAR-OLDS TO WATCH FOR DERBY 138:

  1. Timely Tally
  2. Union Rags
  3. Hansen
  4. Ever So Lucky
  5. Gemologist

TOP FIVE FALL MEET 2-YEAR-OLD FILLES TO WATCH FOR OAKS 138:

  1. My Miss Aurelia
  2. On Fire Baby
  3. Grace Hall
  4. And Why Not
  5. Back Spin

FAREWELL:
Trainer Bob Holthus, a veteran of nearly 60 years in that profession, died on Nov. 22 at the age of 77. One of the great gentlemen in Thoroughbred racing, the Nebraska native saddled five starters in the Kentucky Derby and won nearly 3,000 races in his career.

The last member of the Holthus stable to run in the Fall Meet — Championship Gold — won on the meet’s finale day, and was saddled by longtime assistant Sal Guerrero.

COUNTDOWN:
As of this Saturday, Dec. 3, only 154 days will remain until Kentucky Derby 138 on May 5, 2012 at Churchill Downs.

Category: Horse Sense

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  1. George Lindsey says:

    Good Stuff Johnny! I agree…more fun with ONE DAY Breeder’s Cup…
    George