Henderson, Ky. (Friday, August 11, 2017) — Trainer Jinks Fires liked Will Munnings so much that seven months later he went out and bought that colt’s full brother, now a 2-year-old named Major Munnings who Friday at Ellis Park ran his record to 2-for-2 in winning the $41,000 turf allowance feature by three lengths over Dark Arden.
Major Munnings won his July 23 debut at Ellis by 9 1/4 lengths, a race that was taken off the grass. Six-time Ellis Park riding champion Jon Court was aboard in both races for Fires, his father in law. Fires paid $80,000 on behalf of owner Dwight Pruett to buy Will Munnings as a 2-year-old at the OBS March sale in Ocala in 2015. He paid $95,000 to acquire Major Munnings for Pruett at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. Both horses were sired by Munnings and are out of the Matty G mare The Schvagen.
“I loved the first one. We won stakes with him,” Fires said, referring to Oaklawn Park’s $100,000 Gazebo won by Will Munnings.
Major Munnings rattled off fractions of 21.27 seconds for the first quarter-mile, 44.33 for the half, 55.85 for five-eighths and finished up 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02, cruising the last sixteenth-mile in 6.16 seconds with Court gearing down. He paid $3.40 as the odds-on favorite.
“Jinks has done an incredible job with him, and he’s showing up in the afternoon like he’s supposed to, all professional,” Court said. “I don’t think he has to be on the lead. But I didn’t really see anybody who could get in front of him today unless they went all out. I just let him kind of run away from there and called on him turning for home. He went on an separated himself from the field. There you have it.”
Conceding how difficult it is for a horse to win its first two races — in part because of facing in the second race more-experienced horses who didn’t win first time out — Court said: “He’s a big strong, good-looking horse. He just put it together well, between getting him fit and psychologically ready to run. I’m just grateful I’m the pilot on him.
“He just loves what he does. He’ll train harder than he needs to, because he wants to. The thing is to keep him contained, to where you want him, to not over-exert to where you’d leave the race out there or put him back in training if he trained too hard. He’s really come around in understanding, and hopefully continues to go that way. He’s showing signs of intelligence, and I love that in horses. They have talent and intelligence, the sky is limitless.”
With Major Munnings now a winner on both dirt and grass, Fires said, “I guess he’ll run wherever you need to run him.” He said Major Munnings was gelded because he was just getting too bulky and thick-necked, which can hamper a racehorse.
Court also won the fourth race on the Benjie Larue-owned and trained Stella Nova. The 56-year-old Court now is 19 for 81 for a clear second in the standings behind defending meet-leader Corey Lanerie’s 24 victories. Court already has won three more races at Ellis than in 2016 and two more than in 2015.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won Ellis’ nightcap with the $5,000 claimer Baby Run To Me to pull within one win, 11-10, of Brad Cox in the trainer standings, with Asmussen having 65-23 edge in starters. Asmussen does lead the money standings with $284,074, about $20,000 more than Cox. Both trainers have two horses in Sunday’s Grade 3 Groupie Doll.
John Tippmann makes Albarado’s one-race trek to Ellis worthwhile
Robby Albarado has been riding sparingly at Ellis Park this summer, being busier than expected at Saratoga. He’s also been successfully shipping around to other stakes, including winning the $1 million Haskell Invitation on Girvin two weeks ago by a nose over McCraken, ridden by his Ellis Park riding colleague Brian Hernandez.
In fact, Albarado will ride only one horse this three-day racing week at Ellis Park. But that 2-year-old made it worth his time as John Tippmann closed well through the stretch to take Friday’s $40,000 maiden race by 1 1/4 lengths over 159-1 shot first-time starter Storm Runner, who did great to be second after apprentice jockey Rogelio Miranda came five-wide and lost his whip.
Albarado did not ride John Tippmann when he was second in his first start July 15 at Ellis Park, losing by 9 1/2 lengths. But he needed no more encouragement to make the trek to Ellis than he got from Greg Geier, a long-time Chicago and New Orleans trainer who now is an assistant at Churchill Downs to Kenny McPeek.
“I thought he was a nice horse since the beginning,” Geier said. “You learn a lot the first time. He got in a little bit of trouble. I told Robby, ‘You want to ride this one when he runs back.’ And it’s the only one he rode all day.”
Said Albarado: “I took it on Greg’s word that he’d win — so we did. Greg has been around a long time. He knows. … Greg liked him. He told me, ‘You need to be on this one.’ Today he was nervous in the post parade, but he broke well and put himself in the race. But he ‘stayed,’ he stayed the whole way. Galloping out, they didn’t get by.”
Albarado will miss Sunday’s Groupie Doll to ride the 2-year-old Hollywood Star in the $200,000 Saratoga Special. He noted that a couple of horses in Friday’s maiden race ran into Hollywood Star in their last race.
“This was a good race,” he said. “You’ll see some of these horses go on. Like my horse. He’ll go farther, too.”
(Photos: Top two: Major Munnings (#1) wins an allowance race under Jon Court. Bottom two: John Tippmann (#4) wins a maiden race under Robby Albarado. All are credit: Coady Photography