For immediate release
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 7, 2017) — The strength of Ellis Park’s 2-year-old racing program was on display as Lookin At Lee rallied to take second in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby a day after Daddy’s Lil Darling did the same in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Lookin At Lee, owned by L and N Racing LLC, is expected to take on Derby winner Always Dreaming in the May 20 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. Trainer Kenny McPeek said Daddy’s Lil Darling could be pointed toward the June 2 English Oaks at famed Epson Downs.
Lookin At Lee won a July 22 maiden race at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., followed by victory in the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile on Aug. 6. Daddy’s Lil Darling won a mile maiden race July 29 that was taken off the Ellis turf.
In the Kentucky Derby, Lookin At Lee benefited from a perfect rail-hugging ride from three-time Ellis Park riding champion Corey Lanerie, sweeping toward the leaders on the far turn and upper stretch. He couldn’t reel in Always Dreaming in the last eighth-mile, finishing second by 2 3/4 lengths, but finished five lengths in front of third-place Battle of Midway. Another length back in fourth was Classic Empire, who had defeated Lookin At Lee in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Arkansas Derby.
“I’m just proud of his efforts,” said Asmussen, who won the Preakness in 2007 with Curlin and in 2009 with the filly Rachel Alexander. “Glad he got into the race and got a chance show who he is. I thought the winner ran a great race, and Lee did all he could do.
“The Preakness is definitely a big possibility. We are going to give his run yesterday the respect that it deserves and wait until he goes back to the track. Just make sure he’s the Lookin At Lee that has spoiled us to this point.”
Risen Star, third in 1988, is the last horse to finish in the top three in the Kentucky Derby after breaking from the No. 1 post. He went on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
“He gives you a lot of confidence,” Asmussen said. “He just keeps coming. He doesn’t hesitate. I thought Corey was a great fit for him and did a wonderful job. He got a dream run. He got his chance. Around the turn when he moved up and at the head of the stretch, I thought he was going to get there. Always Dreaming had a lot left and ran well under the wire.”
Daddy’s Lil Darling, with Julien Leparoux pinch-hitting for the injured Robby Albarado, powered from near-last to finish 1 1/4 lengths shy of victorious Abel Tasman in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.
Her record and late-running style is almost identical to Lookin At Lee. She also won at Ellis in her second race last year, then captured Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Pocahontas in her next start. Normandy Farm’s daughter of Scat Daddy was second in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (G1) last fall and in the Ashland (G1) in her start before the Oaks, while also finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
“She ran great, ran big,” trainer Kenny McPeek said from his Magdalena Farm and training facility in Lexington. “And I expected her to. I thought the mile and an eighth suited her. She needed pace, and she got it. She’s pre-nominated to the English Oaks, which is a little bit different, at a mile and a half (on turf) at Epsom. We’re going to bring her over here and train on my gallop, then we’ll discuss it with the owner and see if that’s doable.”
McPeek has used Ellis Park’s maiden races at a mile on grass extensively with his young horses, wanting the distance more than the surface.
“And their program is continuing to get stronger,” he said. “
Asmussen had a full division of his stable at Ellis Park for the first time in some years last summer.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the 2-year-old program at Ellis Park and how well the horses moved forward coming out of it,” he said. “I very much plan on using Ellis Park this summer, for exactly that reason.”
Maiden races will be $40,000, including purse enhancements for Kentucky-bred horses, for Ellis Park’s 2017 summer meet, July 1-Sept. 4. In addition to the Ellis Park Juvenile, the Ellis Park Debutante for 2-year-old fillies will be held for the first time since 2008.
Ellis Park director of publicity, live racing