Thirteen fillies and mares were entered Sunday for Saturday’s $100,000, Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes at Ellis Park. Ahh Chocolate, Stoneway Farm’s multiple graded-stakes winner and the likely favorite, drew post 6 and will be ridden for the first time by Chris Landeros, with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding that day at Mountaineer Park’s stakes-laden card.
The field is limited to 12, with Churchill Downs allowance winner Improv needing a scratch to run, with preference given to the horses with the most earnings in 2015-’16. Others in the face include Fioretti, last year’s Groupie Doll runner-up and winner of Keeneland’s Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America; Godolphin Racing’s Iowa Distaff winner Innovative Idea, shipping in from Chicago; Churchill’s Roxelana winner Athena, who is expected to be cross-entered in a stakes at Mountaineer; and Engaginglee, second in Churchill’s Grade 1 LaTroienne and third in the G2 Fleur de Lis.
Brooklynsway, winner of Indiana Grand’s Mari Hulman George by 8 1/2 lengths, had been considered likely for the Groupie Doll, but trainer Bernie Flint elected to take a pass.
The field for the mile stakes, in post position order and with rider/trainer:
1. Innovative Idea, Jon Court/Eoin Harty; 2. Crown D’ Oro, James Graham/Buff Bradley; 3. Athena, Joe Johnson/Helen Pitts; 4. Emmajestic, Sophie Doyle/Michelle Lovell; 5. Engaginglee, Jesus Castanon/Dale Romans; 6. Ahh Chocolate, Chris Landeros/Neil Howard; 7. Pangburn, Albin Jimenez/William VanMeter; 8. You Bought Her, Francisco Torres/David Hinsley; 9. Conquest Curlgirl, Marlon St. Julien/Mark Casse; 10. Kathballu, Didiel Osorio/Kenny McPeek; 11. Academic Break, Helen Pitts-Blasi/Leandro Goncalves; 12. Fioretti, Antioco Murgia/Anthony Hamilton. Also eligible: 13. Improv, Jon Court/Rusty Arnold.
The $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile, a seven-eighths of a mile stakes brought back after several years in hiatus, attracted a field of six 2-year-olds. That field:
1. Decaro, Javier Tavarres/Dennis Hughes; 2. Cardinal Sin, Jesus Castanon/Mike Maker; 3. Honor Thy Father, James Graham/Kenny McPeek; 4. Sobrino, Leandro Goncalves/Genaro Garcia; 5. Lookin At Lee, Albin Jimenez/Steve Asmussen; 6. Caroline Test, Jon Court/Ben Colebrook.
Caroline Test is a filly that won her off-turf debut at Ellis by 4 1/4 lengths at 14-1.
McPeek well-represented in Groupie Doll, EP Juvenile
Kenny McPeek will be well represented in both stakes, with the hard-knocking Kathballu in the $100,000, Grade 3 Groupie Doll and Honor Thy Father looming as a strong favorite in the reconstituted $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile.
Kathballu is among what could be a full starting gate of 12 fillies and mares in Ellis’ signature race. She’s a two-time allowance winner who is multiple graded stakes-place and rarely runs a bad race. And she’s run against some of the best fillies on the top of their game.
“She’s a good filly,” McPeek said. “I think a mile is stretching it with her. But I think this is a really good spot. I’ve won this race a couple of times, and I think she fits really well. She’s got tactical speed… She’s doing great. Her race in Chicago was really good. I think she’s doing better than ever right now, too. I think she’s bigger and stronger as a 4-year-old than when she was 3.”
Honor Thy Father was a most-impressive winner of a mile maiden race taken off the turf July 8. As McPeek frequently does, he was running Honor Thy Father in the turf race not for the surface but to get the distance. The result was a 9 3/4-length romp.
“He could be any kind of horse,” McPeek said. “He wants more distance. I’m a little leery cutting him back to seven-eighths. If runs well and this doesn’t take too much out of him, we’ll entertain (Saratoga’s) Hopeful or just wait for the stakes at Churchill. But he needs to jump through this hoop and prove he can handle this. It’s a good spot for him, timing-wise.”
McPeek said Honor Thy Father, from Gainesway Farm’s first-crop stallion To Honor and Serve, is the first horse for owner Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables.
“I think he’s got an opportunity to reach any level,” McPeek said. “It’s the first winner for him. I think you’ll be hearing a lot out of Mr. Fireman’s horses in the next couple, three years. He’s getting actively involved, and we’d like to win our first stakes for him. This was his first starter.”
Honor Thy Father cost $250,000 . “He was a real standout, one of the later sessions at Keeneland September,” McPeek said of Keeneland’s famed yearling sale. “I think the sire has a chance to be a top stallion, and he’s out of a Distorted Humor mare, and you can’t go wrong there either. As a physical specimen, he’s got all the right parts in the right places. He seems to have the mind for it, too.”
James Graham, who rode Honor Thy Father when he was sixth in his debut sprinting, regains the mount with Corey Lanerie, who was aboard in his victory, riding that day in West Virginia.
Also riding on West Virginia’s stakes-fattened card, which includes the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, are Ellis meet-leading rider Robby Albarado, second-place Brian Hernandez Jr., Miguel Mena, Channing Hill and Declan Cannon. Joe Rocco will be riding at Louisiana Downs.
Sir Douglas sold, goes to Saratoga with Chad Brown
Sir Douglas, who won his second start in an Ellis Park maiden race July 10 by 4 1/2 lengths, has been sold by owner Dwight Pruett to one of New York-based trainer Chad Brown’s clients, trainer Jinks Fires said.
Fires said he did not know who the new owner is. “He went to Saratoga (Saturday) afternoon,” he said. “That’s what happens when you get a good one — everyone wants to buy them. You put up some dollar signs and a lot of owners get excited about it.
Brown did not return a text asking about Sir Douglas’ new owner or immediate plans.
Pruett paid $175,000 for Sir Douglas, a son of More Than Ready, at a 2-year-old auction. Fires had planned to run Sir Douglas in the Ellis Park Juvenile. The good thing for Fires is that he has another unraced 2-year-old in the barn that he likes very much.
“We think we’ve got one in there like him,” he said.