Derby and Oaks dreams alive at Ellis Park
by JOE KRISTUFEK
The Road to the Kentucky Derby doesn't officially launch until the horses leave the starting gate for the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs on September 15, but the dream begins long before that.
Sunday at Ellis Park, boys and girls will line up in a pair of juvenile stakes with hopes of taking the next step.
During the heat of summer, the majority of the top sophomores are housed at either Del Mar in California or Saratoga in New York, but in recent years the Ellis Park 2-year-old program has been on the upswing.
In 2016, Lookin At Lee parlayed a win in the Ellis Park Juvenile to an eventual runner-up performance in the Kentucky Derby, and last year's champ Dak Attack was regarded one of the crop's most exciting prospects prior to suffering a setback.
Last year's Ellis Park Debutante winner Kelly's Humor is no slouch either. She's hit the board in a trio of graded stakes this season, including a most recent third-place finish in the Test (G1) at Saratoga.
Let's dig deep into both of Sunday's $75,000 seven furlong juvenile stakes at Ellis Park
8th race – Ellis Park Debutante
My Top Contenders
#6 Somewhere (9-2 ML) – Bet down to odds of 3-1 in her career debut at Churchill Downs on June 1, this $260,000 yearling purchase by Quality Road was compromised by a slow start and a wide trip. She broke much better in her second try four weeks later, and made short work of a full field of quality maidens. She cleared in hand, was ridden out the wire and galloped out well. An attractive looking filly, she's a half to three very talented siblings – the sharp $220,000 earning sprinter Silver Lining John; Silver Sydney, who banked roughly $140,000; and Big Trouble, who won the only two starts of his career, including the Sanford (G3) at Saratoga. This Buff Bradley charge is owned by Allied Racing of Chester Thomas, a popular long-time supporter of Ellis Park's racing program. This team ran second in last year's race with Upset Brewing.
#4 Profound Legacy (5-1) – A dominating winner at first asking at Emerald Downs while in the care of Michael Puhich, this daughter of Proud Citizen was subsequently transferred to the Kentucky-based Ian Wilkes, and her local follow-up start for that barn was every bit as impressive as the debut. After sitting an advantageous, catbird's seat trip, she made a quick on the turn for home, was nudged on, took full command and won with plenty left. My first thought was that $110,000 is a lofty price to pay at the Keeneland September yearling sale for a daughter of the $7,500 sire Proud Citizen, but a digger deep into the pedigree revealed that she's a full sister for former Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner and $1.2 million earner Believe You Can.
#2 Spice It Up (12-1) – Even though she broke her maiden at first asking by nearly nine lengths, she did it at Thistledown, so a good percentage of horseplayers won't take her as seriously as they should. Transferred from Tim Hamm to Wayne Catalano immediately following the race, she targets a very logical spot here. Off a step slow in the debut, she was a bit eager early on between foes. She loomed 3-wide in hand nearing the turn, took full command and won under a drive. A $140,000 2-year-old in training purchase, she's by the $35,000 sire Super Saver and a half to the versatile $780,000 earner Thisskyhasnolimit and two others who banked over $150,000.
Others to consider in order of preference
#9 Serengeti Empress (3-1) – Dominated in the career debut at Indiana Grand and ran a follow-up fourth in the Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga. She pressed a fast pace that day, but faded in a race where it was tough to make up ground. Must be respected, but may not be as good as she looks.
#11 Shanghai Rain (4-1) – Scored a game win at second asking at Churchill, but in was somewhat circumstantial and the race hasn't come back all that strong. She returned to finish a distant second behind the ridiculously impressive Restless Rider in the follow-up start, but somebody had to. You can expect an honest effort, so including her in any wagering strategy makes sense.
The wagers ($60 budget)
$4 exacta box 4, 6 = $8
$5 exacta 4, 6 with 2, 4, 6, 9, 11 = $40
$2 exacta 4, 6 with 4, 6, 9, 11 = $12
9th race – Ellis Park Juvenile
My Top Contenders
#9 Tobacco Road (9-2) – An even fifth of 12 in the career debut at Churchill behind his talented stablemate Tight Ten, who was recently second in the Saratoga Special (G2), this Steve Asmussen-trained son of Quality Road returned to post a professional maiden score at Ellis Park. He disposed of the highly regarded Mr. Ankeny and eight others that day over Sunday's seven furlong distance, and looked good doing it.
#11 Whisky Echo (9-5) – In June at Churchill, Mr. Steve Asmussen hinted to me that this might be the best collection of 2-year-olds he's ever had. He's had a banner summer with his Saratoga babies, and although this son of Tiznow might not be one of his best ones, he's still very good. A dominating winner over just three rivals in his career debut at Belmont, he would return six weeks later to finish a better than it looks third in the Sanford (G3) at Saratoga. Shuffled a bit early at the rail, he finished willingly for third behind a talented pair. The extreme outside post in this one doesn't do him any favors, but Dak Attack won this race under similar circumstances last year.
#10 Mine Inspector (8-1) – This son of Discreetly Mine debuted on the Ellis Park turf on July 8, and the win was even more impressive than the margin of victory would indicate. Off slowly losing some six lengths at the start, he quickly moved up from a stalking position at the rail, had aim on the turn, and freaked in the stretch. The time came back slow and the speed figure is nothing to write home about, but it was the way he did it. He's the first foal out of the Yes It's True dam Latin Tudor, who is a half to $470K grade three winner Classy Class and Full House, who banked nearly $180K in just ten starts. They too were sired by Discreetly Mine, and both flourished on dirt.
Others to consider in order of preference
#4 Manny Wah (5-1) – Off slowly in his career debut at Churchill on June 30, he managed to rally to finish a distant second behind a runaway winner. He broke a lot better in the follow up start over the Arlington Polytrack, and after battling every step up the way from the rail, he held on gamely for the win. By the exciting first-crop sire Will Take Charge, he's the first foal out of the dam Battlefield Angel. Third in the Alcibiades (G1) as a 2-year-old, she is a half to Lookin At Lee and Blended Citizen. The pedigree suggests that he should improve with added distance.
#7 Shanghaied Roo (8-1) – A sharp winner at first asking at Keeneland, which isn't an easy task, this Bret Calhoun-trained son of Shanghai Bobby was entered to return in the Kentucky Juvenile on Derby week at Churchill, but he got spooked upon entering the track for the post parade, dumped the rider, cramped up due to nerves and had to be scratched. He would disappoint as the 2-1 second choice against 11 rivals in the Bashford Manor (G3) 11 weeks later, but the recent works indicate he may be ready to fire a big shot on Sunday.
The Wagers ($60 budget)
$8 exacta box 9, 10, 11 = $48
$2 exacta 9, 10, 11 with 4, 7 = $12