Tapiture preps for BC Dirt Mile in Ack Ack; Mylute tries to clear stakes hurdle in Lukas Classic

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September 24th, 2015

The final Saturday of the September meet features three stakes races at Churchill Downs, including the $175,000 Lukas Classic. Formerly known as the Homecoming Classic, the 1 1/8-mile race was recently renamed for the 80-year-old Hall of Fame trainer and serves as a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) prep.

However, it’s difficult to envision any of the eight entrants making a serious impact in the Classic at Keeneland five weeks later.

The $100,000 Ack Ack H. (G3) has bigger Breeders’ Cup implications. The one-turn mile event serves as the final tightener for Tapiture, who posted a commendable second to Goldencents in the 2014 Dirt Mile at Santa Anita. Unraced since a disappointing effort in June, the Steve Asmussen-trained 4yo colt is winless from four attempts this year but Tapiture did place in the Oaklawn H. (G2) and Lone Star Park H. (G3). Ricardo Santana Jr. rides the multiple Grade 2 scorer.

Viva Majorca registered a field-best BRIS Speed rating of 101 last out, rallying for third in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga, and also appears on track for a Dirt Mile bid. Trained by Ian Wilkes, the 4yo gelding keeps Julien Leparoux in the saddle. Midnight Cello is another Dirt Mile candidate and enters the Ack Ack in career-best form for Michael Tomlinson, winning the Hanshin Cup (G3) and recording a fast-closing second in the Presque Isle Downs Mile in his last two starts. Florent Geroux sticks with the 5yo gelding.

The seven-horse Ack Ack is rounded out by Agent Di Nozzo, Den’s Legacy, Hat of Jacks and Roman Unbridled.

Mylute is the likely Lukas Classic favorite following a fifth in the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga. Transferred to Todd Pletcher this year, the 5yo horse has placed in seven stakes during his career but is still seeking his first black-type tally. The gray recorded a couple of nice efforts this season for the new barn, registering a 102 BRIS Speed for a runner-up in the Alydar and a 107 for a convincing allowance victory, and Mylute will pick up the services of the hot-riding Geroux.

“We felt like (the Lukas Classic) might be a race that made sense for him,” Pletcher said. “He’s banged heads with some pretty good ones the last couple of times. This race isn’t easy by any means but you could probably make an argument that it’s a little bit of class relief from the Woodward anyway.”

Pletcher is a former Lukas assistant and was asked about his mentor, who fell ill last weekend while in Philadelphia to saddle a couple of horses at Parx Racing and underwent a procedure Tuesday to insert a permanent pacemaker.

“Hopefully, (Saturday’s Lukas Classic) is serving as a pick-me-up for him,” Pletcher said. “I know he’s had a tough week but at the same time I know if anybody can bounce back from just about anything, it’s Wayne. I think he’s leaving (Philadelphia) on Friday – at least that’s what I heard today. I’m going to guess he’s not going to be there Saturday but then again you never know with Wayne.”

Departing is the lone graded stakes winner in the Lukas Classic line-up, winning a trio of Grade 2s and a Grade 3, and the Al Stall Jr. trainee returns to a dirt route after a couple of disappointing performances on turf and in a dirt sprint. The 5yo gelding has the back class to challenge with his best, but Departing rates as an enigma given his uneven 2015 form. He’ll receive a new jock in Brian Hernandez Jr.

Abaraham is intriguing given his early foot in a race lacking pace. The 5yo gelding was claimed for $50,000 at Saratoga two starts back and could return a nice dividend for his new connections. Joe Rocco Jr. will be up for Joe Sharp. Ulanbator also appears capable of challenging following a victory in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand. The Wilkes trainee possesses a 2-1-2 mark from five previous attempts at Churchill and Leparoux will pilot.

Geothermal, Hesinfront, Irish You Well and Smack Smack complete the Lukas Classic field.

Nun the Less and Syntax, the first and third-place finishers in the August 29 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury, are top contenders in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup (G3). The one-mile turf affair for 3yos drew a field of 11 and other notables include High Noon Rider, Saham, Wayward Kitten, and Wild and Unbridled.

Photo of Tapiture (left) finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile courtesy of BC Ltd.