Champagne Problems has competed against Pinch Hit three times: finishing third while beaten 1 1/2 lengths, then second by a neck before turning the tables on Pinch Hit in taking a Churchill Downs allowance race by three-quarters of a length.
Pinch Hit is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Sunday’s $100,000, Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes, Ellis Park’s signature race. Champagne Problems is 12-1 in the field of 11 fillies and mares running a mile.
“As they would say, it’s a good thing she can’t read,” joked co-owner Randy Bloch, Champagne Problems’ co-owner from Louisville. “It doesn’t bother her.”
The disparity in odds no doubt is due in part because Pinch Hit had an adventurous trip in the June 23 allowance race and came back to win Indiana Grand’s $100,000 Mari Hulman George while Champagne Problems is training up to the race.
The other component could be that trainer Brad Cox and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan have been on a tear. Cox, the 2015 Ellis meet leader, had won 16 of his past 31 starts at the track, with Bridgmohan riding 14 of those winners.
But trainer Ian Wilkes is having a fine Ellis meet as well, winning nine of 31 starts, including the Ellis Park Turf Stakes with Bonnie Arch. Champagne Problems, who won an allowance race at Ellis Park last summer, again will be ridden by fan favorite and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel.
“She’s stakes-placed, and it would be great if we could get a graded-stakes win with her,” said Bloch, who owns Champagne Problems with Brad Stephens, John Seiler, Fred Merritt and David Hall. “As you can see from her form, she’s just an honest filly. She always gives it her all. She and Calvin really relate well to one another and glad he’s able to ride her.
“Any time you get into a stakes race, let alone a graded-stakes race, there you are butting heads with Steve Asmussen, Brad Cox, Larry Jones, Mike Tomlinson. It’s just an honor to be running against those guys. But it also makes it very difficult. It’s a tough race. But she fights; she’s a competitor. She’s honest.”
“She’s just improving where I’ll be able to put her where I want this trip,” he said. “Ian has been pointing this filly for this race for the last five months. He said, ‘This is the race we want to try to win.’ Her last race was very, very impressive. She traveled with me a lot closer (to the pace) and finished. Before, she’d grind but she wouldn’t give me a punch. But last time I laid just right off of them and she gave me a pretty good punch. That’s what we wanted to see coming into this race.”
Champagne Problems is the first of three Bloch-owned horses with the sparkling wine in their names, being followed by Champagne All Day and the 2-year-old Champagne Anyone. While there is no real story behind the name, Bloch promised, “There will be some bubbly afterward if we win.”
Bloch also has the Wilkes-trained homebred Jacktastic tackling the $75,000 Ellis Park Derby at a mile off a win in a $75,000 maiden-claiming race at Churchill Downs and $50,000 starter-allowance race victory at Ellis. Off four disappointing races as a 2-year-old, the turnaround for Jacktastic seems to have been gelding the horse.
“His last two races have been really good,” Bloch said. “Ian was deciding between an allowance race and the Ellis Park Derby. He really wanted to run him short one more time and just decided, ‘Why not give him a shot now and we’ll figure out where to go from here.’ He’s won at Ellis and we’re kind of anxious to see what he does.”
Bridgmohan reunited with Groupie Doll favorite
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will be reunited with Pinch Hit, trained by meet-leading trainer Brad Cox, for the first time since he was aboard the Groupie Doll favorite for her first three races 1 1/2 years ago. With the filly going to Oaklawn, he didn’t ride her back when she won for the first time. But Bridgmohan did suggest adding blinkers, which owner Richard Klein attributes to Pinch Hit’s transformation into a multiple stakes-winner.
Bridgmohan has teamed with Cox to win three stakes so far this meet, the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile with Mr. Misunderstood, the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup with Arklow and the $50,000 Good Lord with Majestic Affair.
“I’ve ridden for him throughout his career,” Bridgmohan said of Cox. “We’ve always gotten lucky together. His stock obviously has gotten better throughout the years, and he’s getting better horses. He’s done a phenomenal job. His (win) percentage speaks for itself and his record. He’s a good trainer who does a phenomenal job.”
Misleading Lady seeking stakes placing (or better!)
The motivation of running 30-1 shot Misleading Lady in the Groupie Doll is shared by a good segment of the field: getting at least a graded-stakes placing that would enhance her value as a broodmare.
So when an allowance race didn’t go at Indiana Grand, owner Thomas Hinshaw and trainer Mike Tomlinson rerouted the 6-year-old mare to the Groupie Doll. In her first start for Tomlinson after being trained by Brad Cox, Misleading Lady was second in a Churchill Downs allowance race.
Misleading Lady has a 5-4-1 record in 18 starts, earning $203,933. Her first win came at Ellis Park three years ago.
“The owners would like to keep her as a broodmare and would like to get some black type (stakes wins or placings),” Tomlinson said. “The little mare is honest. It looks like a tough spot to win, but if she just hit the board and got black type for these owners, it would be a big plus. And this filly’s running style suits Ellis. She’s got tactical speed going that far. She’ll lay really close. It’s worth a shot.”
Pressley hoping for Karma indeed in Ellis Park Derby
One of the biggest groups at Ellis Park on Sunday will be Henderson entrepreneur Mike Pressley and his family, with two dozen relatives expected to watch Kowboy Karma in the new $75,000 Ellis Park Derby at a mile. Kowboy Karma, a stakes-winner who hasn’t raced since finishing second in a Keeneland allowance race April 12, is the 3-1 favorite in the wide-open race, with his Larry Jones-trained stablemate Believe in Royalty the 4-1 second choice in a capacity field of a dozen 3-year-olds.
“We just hope he does the best he can,” said Pressley, who owns Kowboy Karma with Jones, who also trained his sire, champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy. “The good news is I’ve got all my family coming.”
Pressley has had horses with Jones since 2000, and they’ve teamed for some good ones: Grade I winner Wildcat Bettie B, along with Grade 2 winners Ruby’s Reception (Jones’ first graded-stakes winner), Josh’s Madelyn and Payton d’Oro.
Pressley’s daughter, Lesley Nelson, got him hooked up with Jones. Nelson sold tip sheets at the track years ago and got to know Jones’ wife, Cindy.
“I went to auctions with him all the time when nobody knew who he was,” Pressley said of Jones. “It was just me and him. Over the years, it (the stable) kept growing, after he had some good horses. But he picked out all the horses. He bought me a lot of (offspring) of first-crop sires. He did everything. He’s the man, as far as I’m concerned.”
Jones and Pressley bought a filly for $35,000 that the owner named Just Jan after his wife, who endured after a lengthy battle with the chronic disease scleroderma that required a lung transplant and eventually claimed Jan Pressley’s life two years ago. Saturday, the day before the Ellis Park Derby, would have been Jan Pressley’s 63rd birthday.
“Kowboy Karma is her first baby,” Pressley said of Just Jan, adding of the gelding’s name, “Larry is a cowboy, a real one, and we were hoping to have a good horse with some karma. And we thought Larry would like the name, too.”
When Jones moved his base to the East Coast after the 2005 tornado hit Ellis Park, Pressley would go to Delaware to watch his horses. Now that Jones is back, Pressley acknowledges it’s nice for his entire family to be able to come out and watch horses train. That was the case Saturday morning when Pressley, Nelson and Nelson’s daughter, Payton (for whom Payton d’Oro is named) were on the Ellis backside.
“The other thing I find remarkable about the whole thing is that Larry has gotten so successful, but he keeps the guys around him who got him started — like me, who has $20,000-$30,000 horses,” Pressley said. “That’s pretty amazing.
“… I remember Larry saying we thought one time we’d win a race at Turfway Park and have some fun. I never dreamed it would be like this. But I knew Larry could pick those babies, and I was going to take a chance.”
Said Nelson: “That’s been the key to this journey. When he started picking the babies, it was a new ballgame.”
Ruby’s Reception was a $12,000 yearling who earned $365,130 on the track and was sold for $225,000. Josh’s Madelyn cost $10,000 as a yearling, made $480,309 racing and was sold for $1 million. Wildcat Bettie B was a comparatively pricey $42,000 yearling who earned $504,818 and ultimately sold $550,000.
Should Kowboy Karma win the Ellis Park Derby, the winner’s circle presentation likely will have to be moved onto the track to accommodate the crowd.
“That would be fun,” Jones said. “That would be a great problem to have if that was the case.”
Among the crowd would be Henderson Mayor Steve Austin, a long-time friend of Pressley’s and who, coincidentally, will be presenting the trophy to the Ellis Park Derby winner.
Winning wieners: Petey, Daphnie Rose take final qualifying heats
The dachshunds Petey (owner Misty Gill of Mt. Erie, Ill.) and Daphnie Rose (owner Mary Haynes of Owensboro) were the winners of Saturday’s final two qualifying heats for the Aug. 25 Wiener Dog Derby. The top four wieners from the two heats Saturday and two heats Aug. 4 are now in the semifinals, with the top four in each of those races making the Wiener Dog Derby championship, also on Aug. 25, to determine Ellis Park’s top dog, or, you might say, the winningest wiener.
Groupie Doll Day: glass giveaway, Sir Dorset, mini horses, racing
The first 500 through the gates Sunday will receive a commemorative Groupie Doll glass, courtesy of stakes sponsor Kruckemeyer and Cohn jewelry store in Evansville.
The old warrior Sir Dorset, who regularly raced at Ellis Park during a career spanning 1999 through 2008, will return to Ellis to greet fans behind the grandstand. Now 23, Sir Dorset won 16 of 78 career starts, becoming a starter-allowance veteran while specializing in races two miles or more for trainers Earl Murphy and Jami Poole. That includes twice winning by more than 40 lengths at Ellis Park.
Sir Dorset is enjoying a second career as a team member with the non-profit Healing Reins, whose mission is “to assist individuals with special needs in meeting heir full potential through interaction with horses.” Healing Reins is bringing out Sir Dorset and miniature horses to Ellis Park to mingle with the fans Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Central. Healing Reins, which offers individual and group therapy sessions, is supported through its partner locations in Henderson: Chad and Stacy Denton’s Blue Moon Stables and William and Peggy Fidler’s Rolling Hills Equestrian Center.
Groupie Doll Stakes (G3)
Post time: Sunday at 4:40 p.m. Central (ninth race)
Purse: $100,000. Distance: mile. Division: Fillies & mares 3 years old & up
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer
1. Sense of Bravery (116) De La Cruz/Cox
2. Jenda’s Agenda (120) G. Saez/Jones
3. Champagne Problems (120) Borel/Wilkes
4. Misleading Lady (120) Rocco/Tomlinson
5. Honey Bunny (120) Lanerie/Ortiz
6. Pacific Pink (120) Hernandez/Asmussen
7. Mines and Magic (120) Camacho/V. Oliver
8. Dutch Parrot (120) Canchari/VanMeter
9. Torrent (120) Gilligan/Moquett
10. Pinch Hit (120) Bridgmohan/Cox
11. Dorodansa (120) Hill/Gorder
Ellis Park Derby
Post time: Sunday at 4:10 p.m. Central (eighth race)
Purse: $75,000. Distance. mile. Division: 3-year-olds
pp horse (weight) jockey/trainer
1. Travelling Midas (120) Gilligan/Arnold
2. Front Door (120) Bridgmohan/LoPresti
3. Ebben (120) Borel/Margolis
4. Jacktastic (120) Landeros/Wilkes
5. Hoonani Road (122) Hill/Catalano
6. Battle At Sea (122) Albarado/Maker
7. Kowboy Karma (120) Hernandez/Jones
8. Limation (120) McMahon/Asmussen
9. Believe In Royalty (120) G. Saez/Jones
10. Art Collection (120) Rocco/Dickey
11. Cutler (120) Zajac/Jackson
12. Turner Time (120) Lanerie/Cox