HENDERSON, Ky. (Sunday, July 9, 2017) — Horses like Honor Thy Father and Reedini looked like stars in the making when they gained their first victories last summer at Ellis Park. Meanwhile, Harmac was still four months away from making his first start. And when he did finally race, the gelding finished 10th while losing by double-digit lengths.
Honor Thy Father, Reedini and Harmac met up in Sunday’s $41,000 first-level allowance feature at Ellis, along with the well-fancied Donwell and Flash Attack. But it was the late-blooming Harmac, possessing the biggest odds in the field of six at 11-1, who closed from last to wear down 8-1 pacesetter Colonel Dan to win by a half-length. It was another four lengths back to Donwell, who was among several horses experiencing bumping at the start. Harmac finished the mile in 1:35.24, paying $25.80 to win under James Graham.
Harmac ran without inspiration in his second start, losing by 10, and Louisville-based trainer Grant Forster felt comfortable putting a moderately-bred gelding with bad form in a maiden-claiming race with a $50,000 price tag. He won at 35-1 under Graham, then was a sneaky-good fourth in a Churchill Downs allowance in the slop won by Singing Bullet.
“He was unfortunate last time when we had the deluge at Churchill,” Forster said. “Dale Romans’ horse won it really impressively that day. We didn’t enter him in a swimming competition, but that’s what it ended up as. We really thought he’d stretch out nicely today. I thought he’d be up closer to the pace, but he came from well back and it set up — when went up pretty quick up front.
“We always thought all along that this was a really talented horse. He’s had some issues, and it’s taken him a little while to figure out the game. Just taken some time, never really had any physical issues. He’s a big kid, but obviously we’ll start to look at some bigger prizes. Maybe one more allowance race. He might be one who will really benefit from the more confidence he has.”
“He’s still getting there,” Graham agreed. “There were solid horses in there, a couple who last year looked like they could be anything. You could say our fellow was three-quarters of a year behind them. But that’s the way he’s developing. The ball still hasn’t dropped, but he’s doing his job.”
Harmac is owned and was bred by Elizabeth Southam, whose grandfather owned the biggest pulp mill on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. “His name was H.R. MacMillan, and they called him Harmac,” Forster said. “That’s the name of the mill.”
Reedini finished another 13 3/4 lengths back in fourth while edging the stakes-place Honor Thy Father, who was 63 lengths in front of Flash Attack.
Cannon lands breakthrough horse in Dona Bruja
A year ago, jockey Declan Cannon was working on getting a toe-hold in Kentucky and indeed America, his career picking up steam at Ellis Park. On Saturday, the 30-year-old Cannon shipped out of town to win on his breakthrough horse as Dona Bruja captured Arlington Park’s Grade 3 Modesty.
Dona Bruja, a star in her native Argentina now trained by Keeneland-based Ignacio Correas, is 2 for 2 in the United States — both races with Cannon in the saddle. They teamed to win Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Mint Julep, which gave the jockey his first graded victory in America. Next stop will be Arlington’s Grade 1 Beverly D, where a victory would really propel Cannon into the spotlight.
“They’re the kind of fillies you need to be getting on to get you noticed,” Cannon said Sunday at Ellis Park. “Good horses make good jockeys, and she is very good…. She gave me goose bumps turning for home. She’s fun to ride — a jockey’s dream.”
In fact, Dona Bruja is kind of like Cannon, trying to prove themselves in the United States. “Exactly,” the jockey said. “We’re both going the right direction, and doing things right, so that’s important. It’s what we get up early in the morning for: to try to find horses like this. It’s what all the work is for.
“Good horses really get you noticed on the bigger stage, Saratoga and places like that. Del Mar, the Breeders’ Cup, those are the kinds of horses that take you places. I’m enjoying it for now to see where she takes me.”
Dona Bruja won eight of 10 starts in Argentina, with two seconds. In the Modesty, she defeated the classy Time and Motion. “Time and Motion is a solid Grade 1 filly,” Cannon said. “I think (Dona Bruja) deserves her chance in the Beverly D. I wouldn’t swap her for anyone else in the race, or whoever might be coming.”
Cannon started riding for Correas in Tampa this past winter. “He’s a very good trainer, does a good job,” he said. “He lets me ride horses the way I want to ride them — with confidence. He leaves it up to me. We have a good relationship, so that works well. It’s important to have a good understanding with your jockey.”
Cannon didn’t have much time to celebrate. He and fellow rider James Graham drove back from northwestern Chicago through the night, arriving at 4:30 a.m. “What do you call it? Bread and butter,” he said with a laugh. “Today is another day — back to work.”
And that’s fine. Cannon, who now has ridden at every track in the state in completing his first year, says he loves riding in Kentucky and at Ellis.
“It’s very laid-back. People take it serious, but people seem to enjoy themselves more here,” he said. “Even the jockeys. There’s a good vibe here. I think that’s important. Like last weekend, 15 of us all went out to dinner together, a whole lot of us and we got a big table. We never get a chance to do that at Churchill, where we’re all next day, next day, busy. We don’t ever get together like that.
“It’s good here. The crowd, you can see they really enjoy it.”
Former Mountaineer kingpin Parker now semi-regular at Ellis Park
Deshawn Parker, winner of 5,270 races, will be coming in and out throughout this meet. Parker, at 5-foot-11 one of the tallest jockeys in America, for years was the kingpin at Mountaineer Park in Chester, W.Va., near Pittsburgh.
Parker led North America in wins in 2010 with 377 and in 2011 with 400 while riding at Mountaineer year-round. But when that racino-fueled track started whacking dates and purses, he began riding elsewhere, including the southwest for the winter.
He moved his tack to Indiana Grand — encouraged by the opportunity to get Jimmy McNerney as his agent — while making regular trips to Ellis Park and Belterra Park, the latter in his native Cincinnati. McNerney is the track announcer at Ellis and Turfway Park but also works as a jockey agent in Indiana.
With a son in college and another 15 years old, Parker says he and his wife would like to relocate to the Midwest when the younger child is out of high school.
“I stayed at Mountaineer and it’s been great for me,” he said. “But it’s time now to try to get out and move places, maybe here to Kentucky.”
It’s a different pace of winning, he acknowledges. “At Mountaineer, I was probably winning three a day,” he said. “But money-wise, I’m probably ahead, because the money is better even winning less races. A lot of times people would say, ‘Man, you win over 200 races and this guy has won 100 races and made just as much or more as you.’ But I never get upset about winning races, whatever the purse is for.”
Of his new circuit, he said, “I love it. Lot of driving, though.”
Racing resumes Friday with a 12:50 p.m. post. On Sunday, $2 million-earner and crowd favorite Brass Hat will be on hand to meet and greet fans as part of Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Day, which features a Brass Hat poster giveaway and an autograph session with owner/trainer/breeder Buff Bradley and jockey Calvin Borel. Other retired racehorses who have enjoyed post-racing careers will be on display, including Brass Hat’s stablemate King of Speed, whose 111 races included 15 at Ellis Park.