Pleuven begins to fulfill early promise in Wise Dan

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 19th, 2016

Once upon a time a promising turf youngster, Pleuven excelled in his third start off a 13-month layoff and scored a breakthrough victory in Saturday night’s $200,000 Wise Dan (G2) (formerly known as the Firecracker) at Churchill Downs. The 5-year-old gelding may be making up for lost time for new connections, owner Nelson McMakin and trainer Phil Sims.

Pleuven was foaled the year Wise Dan won his first edition of the Firecracker (2011) in his turf debut. The French-bred was just a yearling when Wise Dan garnered his first Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Horse of the Year crown in 2012. The 2-year-old Pleuven captured the Prix Roland de Chambure at Longchamp in the summer of 2013, prompting a private purchase and importation. In his U.S. debut for Robert LaPenta, Gary Finder, and Bradley Thoroughbreds, Pleuven finished a strong third in the Dania Beach (G3). By that point, Wise Dan had repeated in the BC Mile and was on the verge of another Eclipse Award sweep as Horse of the Year, champion turf male, and champion older male.

Unfortunately, Pleuven was rarely seen on a racecourse thereafter. Fourth in the Palm Beach (G3) in his only appearance at three, the Chad Brown trainee resurfaced briefly with a pair of good-looking allowance scores at Gulfstream Park in early 2015. But he was sidelined again until this spring.

After a closing fifth in his first try for McMakin and Sims in a Keeneland allowance, Pleuven moved forward when second to Thatcher Street in the May 21 Opening Verse. The gelded son of Turtle Bowl enjoyed a perfect hedge-skimming trip much of the way in the Wise Dan, and jockey Channing Hill cited that as the difference in turning the tables.

Pleuven broke on top, but soon tucked in just behind pacesetting Kasaqui. Last seen clipping heels and falling in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, Kasaqui was now safely in front through splits of :23.81, :48.31 and 1:11.82 on the firm turf. Za Approval, an old rival of Wise Dan, was a notable stalker on the outside, while 7-5 favorite The Pizza Man lagged well back in last.

Swinging into the stretch, Pleuven angled off the inside and served it up to Kasaqui. The 7-1 chance edged three-quarters of a length clear, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.96, and paid $17.20 to win.

Kasaqui held second by 1 1/2 lengths from the mildly closing Thatcher Street, with The Pizza Man making late progress for fourth. Za Approval couldn’t capitalize on his good early position and faded to eighth of 10.

Pleuven has now earned $262,886 from a record of 11-5-2-2. Bred and originally campaigned by Jean de Cheffontaines, he’s out of the Singspiel mare Under Estimated. His third dam is multiple Group 3 winner Parioli.

Later on the Stephen Foster (G1) card, Sanford Robertson’s homebred Auntie Joy wired the $100,000 Regret (G3) under a clever plan hatched by trainer Brendan Walsh and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. The tactic was to flash speed from her far outside post 10, and either seize the lead in a race without a lot of pace on tap, or at least secure a favorable position in the turf test.

Securing command through an opening quarter of :24.02, Auntie Joy enjoyed an easy time of it through fractions of :49.48 and 1:14.00. The 3-1 chance shrugged off pace attendant Wessex at the head of the lane, established a daylight advantage at the mile mark in 1:37.50, and held sway by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:49.24 for 1 1/8 grassy miles.

Noble Beauty rallied for second, a neck up on 2-1 favorite Try Your Luck. Wessex tired to fourth of 10.

Auntie Joy fit the night’s themes in a couple of ways. She is bred on the same cross as Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning champion Nyquist, being by Uncle Mo and out of a Forestry mare. Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, was on hand Saturday evening to accept the Derby trophies.

Also, trainer Walsh is a former assistant to Eddie Kenneally, who sent out Bradester to a front-running decision in the Foster.

Walsh noted that you’ve got to have the horse to execute such a front-running gambit, adding that Auntie Joy is on the improve. She paid quite a compliment to Canadian Horse of the Year Catch a Glimpse, having finished fifth to her in the April 14 Appalachian (G3) at Keeneland and most recently second to the streaking chestnut in the May 6 Edgewood (G3) here on Kentucky Oaks Day. Auntie Joy’s resume reads 6-3-1-0, $147,350.

A half-sister to multiple Grade 3 turf winner Divine Oath, Auntie Joy counts as her third dam unbeaten Hall of Famer and Broodmare of the Year Personal Ensign.

Photos courtesy Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.