Tom’s Ready upsets Ack Ack as Runhappy weakens to fourth; Noble Bird wires Lukas Classic

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 1st, 2016

Saturday’s $100,000 Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs did not turn out as many expected, with sprint champion Runhappy going down to defeat as the 1-5 favorite in his 2016 bow, and Tom’s Ready played the role of spoiler as he rallied to a half-length decision.

Trained by Dallas Stewart and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., the winner is campaigned by the GMB Racing Stable of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and a juvenile stakes, Tom’s Ready registered his second stakes tally after capturing the Woody Stephens (G2) at Belmont two starts previously. The 3-year-old colt was off as the near 5-1 second choice among six runners.

Unraced since an impressive victory in the Malibu (G1) in December, Runhappy returned from a 280-day layoff and was using the one-turn mile race as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita on November 4. He flashed forward at the start and contested the pace with Mr. Z down the backstretch through splits in :23.08 and :45.95 over the “wet-fast” track.

“He was going nice and easy on the lead and was sitting very comfortable," jockey Edgar Prado said of Runhappy. "He was able to rate (winning) the Breeders’ Cup (Sprint) last year so we did a little of that. He was comfortable but we just couldn’t get it done in that last part.”

Tom’s Ready rated in fifth, seven lengths behind after the opening half-mile, and launched his bid rounding the far turn. Only 1 ½ lengths back of Runhappy after three-quarters in 1:10.22, the Pennsylvania-bred colt surged to the lead after straightening for home, opening a clear advantage in deep stretch.

“We thought that if we could beat Runhappy, today was the day and our horse ran his race,” Hernandez said of the winner. “They didn’t go all that fast up front and he ran after them and ran them down his own way and proved to be the best horse today. I was pretty confident the whole way. I was sitting back behind them and I know they didn’t feel like they weren’t going all that fast but knowing my little horse and watching him run in the race he did at Belmont, I thought when I called on him that he would be able to give me that kind of run and he did.”

Trainer Laura Wohlers was asked whether Runhappy will still pursue the Dirt Mile.

“We’ll talk about it and see,” Wohlers said. “Hopefully, but we’ll stop and see. I’m disappointed he didn’t win the race, especially when he’s such a favorite but it’s alright, he’ll do okay. As long as he comes out of the race okay, we’ll be fine. We’ll live to race another day.”

Iron Fist closed belatedly for second as the 6-1 third choice, finishing a length better than Schivarelli in third. It was another length back to Runhappy in fourth. The final time was 1:34.86.

Bred by Blackstone Farm LLC, Tom’s Ready was purchased for $145,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August yearling. He’s the first stakes winner from the Broad Brush mare Goodbye Stranger.

Tom’s Ready rebounded from a ninth-place showing in the August 27 King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga and increased his career bankroll to $640,267 from a 13-3-4-0 record. The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is a likely destination for the dark bay colt.

The $175,000 Lukas Classic at 1 1/8 miles also served as a virtual prep for the Dirt Mile, with wire-to-wire winner Noble Bird likely to pursue the shorter distance instead of the 1 ¼-mile Classic.

The Mark Casse-trained colt broke a half-step slow but quickly recovered beneath Julien Leparoux, completing the opening quarter-mile in :24.02 with a 1 ½-length advantage. Noble Bird remained clear the rest of the way, reeling off fractions in :48.01 and 1:11.74 en route to stopping the teletimer in 1:49.03.

With the 1 ½-length decision, Noble Bird has now bankrolled $944,945 from an 18-6-4-0 career line. He recorded his first stakes victory in the 2015 Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs and captured the Pimlico Special (G3) three starts previously. He’s also posted a pair of runner-up finishes at the graded level. The 5-year-old horse was exiting a pair of unplaced efforts versus better company in the Metropolitan (G1) and Whitney (G1).

Noble Bird left the starting gate as the 5-2 second choice. Hawaakom was off at 12-1 odds and closed up the inside in deep stretch to edge 7-2 Bradester for third. Next came 34-1 outsider Fear the Cowboy. Breaking Lucky, the 2-1 favorite, never fired in eighth.

Bred in Kentucky by Jack Swain, Noble Bird is by Birdstone and hails from the unraced Tiznow mare Anyhow. The chestnut was purchased for $105,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale.

The stakes action kicked off with the $100,000 Jefferson Cup, which lost its Grade 3 status pending a review after being taken off turf, and One Mean Man rallied from just off the pace to win going away by 1 ½ lengths. Robby Albarado was up on the Mizzen Mast colt, who was favored at 8-5 among five sophomore rivals and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.23 over the wet-fast track.

Owned and bred by Ron Hillerich & trainer Bernie Flint, One Mean Man notched his fourth stakes victory of the year, and first on the main track. Winner of the American Derby (G3) at Arlington three starts previously, the gray Kentucky-bred was exiting a tally in the August 27 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury. One Mean Man has now earned $418,597 from a 16-6-3-1 career line.

(Coady Photography)