Drama off to the side, 'Happy' ready to Run in Ack Ack

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 28th, 2016

There's been enough drama surrounding Runhappy over the past year to fill up all of Broadway. The reigning champion male sprinter himself remains a popular horse, though, and it will show when he makes his long-awaited four-year-old debut Saturday in the $100,000 Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs.

Sidelined by various infirmities since December, when he capped off his championship campaign with a victory in the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita, Runhappy faces a field of five going a mile, the farthest he will have competitively traveled since last year's Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, which to date has been his only loss in eight starts.

All except the three-year-old Tom's Ready will carry 121 pounds in the Ack Ack. That is not good news for Runhappy's four older opponents, but if there was ever a time to catch the champ off guard it might be at this extended one-turn trip following a lengthy absence.

Nonetheless, Runhappy figures to be an odds-on choice, and his record backs up that likely sentiment. Undefeated in stakes company around one turn, he cruised in last summer's King's Bishop (G1), bravely captured the Phoenix (G3) despite sporting a slipped saddle, and then set a Keeneland track record taking the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1).

Mr. Z, the 2015 Ohio Derby winner who has not raced since November, appears likely to tussle with Runhappy early, followed closely by Iron Fist, last year's Pennsylvania Derby (G2) runner-up who should move forward off of his September 4 comeback at Saratoga.

The aforementioned Tom's Ready, second in the Lecomte and Louisiana Derby (G2) before taking the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2), was caught extremely wide in the King's Bishop last out, and can fare better in this shorter field.

The $175,000 Lukas Classic, created as a nine-furlong prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), looks more like a tune-up for the Dirt Mile (G1) this year. Bradester and Noble Bird, the last two winners of the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster H. (G1), square off here, but their front-running styles would seem better suited to the shorter Breeders' Cup feature in the long-term.

Canadian classic winner Breaking Lucky, a rock-solid fourth in the Woodward (G1) at odds of 48-1, could find himself in the catbird seat behind that pair. A strong pace would also benefit Bullards Alley, hero of the Louisville H. (G3) and runner-up in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3), and stakes winners Hawaakom and Rocket Time.

The $100,000 Jefferson Cup, a nine-furlong grass test for three-year-olds, features Arlington Classic (G3) hero Surgical Strike, American Derby (G3) winner One Mean Man, and Grade 2 victor Conquest Daddyo.

(Coady Photography)