Ellis Park’s opening day highlights: Jon Court earns 600th win at the track

Today’s headlines:

Jon Court earns 600th career win at Ellis Park
Arnold, Hernandez win a pair for iconic Calumet, Madden family
Mr Ashley wins first 2-year-old maiden race
Caberneigh earns 17th career victory at age 12
Three horses scratched after accident on interstate

Jon Court has won six riding titles at Ellis Park, including a record five straight.

Jon Court earned his 600th victory at Ellis Park on Saturday’s opening card on Northern Ranger. Coady Photography photo.

HENDERSON, Ky. (Saturday, July 1, 2017) — Jockey Jon Court didn’t waste anytime knocking off his 600 career victory at Ellis Park on Saturday’s opening card.

With his second mount of the day, Court captured the second race aboard 6-1 shot Northern Ranger for owner Joseph Scates and trainer David Dortch. Court now has won 4,036 races in North America, which does not include his 2003 victory in the $1 million Japan Cup Dirt.

“It feels great to make this accomplishment,” said the 56-year-old Court after his fellow jockeys gathered into the winner’s circle ceremony commemorating the six-time Ellis Park riding champion and the only jockey to win the title five straight years. “I was sitting at 599, and sometimes those numbers are a bear to get by. But today we were able to capture it early on in the program, and I’m excited about it. I appreciate all the support I’ve had and everybody rallying around me for the picture and the celebration.

“I came here how many decades ago, was here and then was gone for half a decade in California before coming back. Every time I’ve come to Ellis I’ve always had a good time. It has a great atmosphere, and it’s good quality racing. The fans are absolutely fantastic. We’ve got a good riding colony and a lot of talent here, so it’s always a special place to be here at Ellis.”

Hernandez, Arnold team to win two

Brian Hernandez and Rusty Arnold won two races on the card.

Derby Champagne, with Brian Hernandez up for owner Preston Madden and trainer Rusty Arnold, won Ellis Park’s opening-day allowance feature. Coady Photography

Earlier in the card, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. quipped after losing a race, “I want to go home.” It was nothing personal against Ellis. Hernandez just had a very late night/early morning in Louisville with Churchill Downs’ closing nighttime card experiencing an hour-delay in mid-program because of a storm.

Then Hernandez teamed with trainer Rusty Arnold to win two races: a turf maiden event with Calumet Farm’s 3-year-old filly English Affair and the allowance feature on turf with Preston Madden’s 4-year-old gelding Derby Champagne.

“After being up until 1 o’clock last night, I did not want to be here today,” Hernandez acknowledged cheerfully, adding, “We knew coming in that these two horses for Rusty were live. It’s just been a long week with Churchill wrapping up and straight year.”

Calumet Farm, now owned by Brad Kelley, has won a record eight Kentucky Derbys as an owner. Madden’s grandfather, the legendary John E. Madden, bred four Derby winners (including the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton) and trained a fifth. Preston Madden himself bred and sold 1987 Kentucky Derby winner and 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba.

“It’s funny. We were in the paddock this spring at Keeneland, and Mr. Madden was there,” Hernandez said. “He said, ‘Well, jock, those silks won the Derby in 1898 (with Plaudit),’ that his grandfather owned and trained the horse himself. That’s pretty cool.”

Derby Champagne won the featured eighth race by a length over favored Giant Payday, who was ridden by Chris Landeros for trainer Ian Wilkes. Derby Champagne, a son of Pulpit, covered the mile over firm turf in 1:34.35, including the last eighth-mile in a tick over 11 seconds. He paid $7 to win in the field of eight horses 3 years old and up.

Derby Champagne now is 3-1-4 in 15 starts, earning $122,289 with the $24,600 payday in the $41,000 entry-level allowance race. He was eligible for the race because one of his earlier victories came in a high-priced starter-allowance race at Saratoga. The gelding was a good third in a similar race last time at Churchill Downs.

“Last time we had a brutal trip, so bad I had to come back and apologize,” Hernandez said. “Today, he was the best horse. I just kind of stayed out of his way.”

Mr Ashley the man in first “baby race”

Mr Ashley finished third in his debut with a horrendous trip.

Mr Ashley, with Sergio Figueroa aboard, captured the first 2-year-old race of the Ellis Park meeting. Coady Photography

William Pribble’s Mr Ashley kept it simple in capturing the meet’s first 2-year-old maiden race, leading all the way for a two-length victory over Make Noise in the seventh race.

That was in stark contrast to his debut on June 14 at Indiana Grand, when Mr Ashley was bumped at the start in the race taken off the grass, coming from last in the field of 11 and 11-wide on the turn to finish third. The son of the Argentine-bred Snapy Halo closed from sixth and eight lengths behind the leaders with an eighth-mile to go to lose by a total of 1 1/2 lengths in the slop.

“I knew we had a tough horse today,” said Juan Chavarria, the assistant to trainer Adolfo Macias, who is stabled at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. “The other day, running in the mud, his first race, and he took a wide turn and still almost caught them. We knew we had a good horse.”

“To tell you the truth, he should have won first time out,” said jockey Sergio Figueroa. “He didn’t like all the water on the track in Indiana, and I had to drift out. At the three-eighths pole, he started running. But turning for home, I had to go so wide, because everybody pushed me all the way out.”

Mr Ashley didn’t have to worry about being wide at Ellis, being in front took care of that. “We’ve been working on it,” Figueroa said. “I’m glad the trainer put me on him. We’ve been taking him to the gate, and worked on him showing more speed.”

Chavarria said the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile on Aug. 20 will be considered.

Raise a toast to oldie-but-good Caberneigh 

The 12-year-old Caberneigh rallied from near last to capture the nightcap for $5,000 claimers by a head over Sky Alert, who at 8 is a veritable spring chicken compared to the winner. It was Caberneigh’s 17th career victory out of 96 starts spanning 11 racing seasons.

The classy Caberneigh sported quite the dapples and looked the picture of health in the winner’s circle. And winning owner-trainer Steve Asmussen said it was good news and bad news in victory: Caberneigh’s first win of the year after three seconds and a third in five starts was great. But his oldest son, Keith, was decidedly unhappy that his dad shipped the old boy from Lone Star Park in Texas — where Keith is his exercise rider — to Kentucky.

“My gosh, Keith, that’s his favorite beyond favorites,” Asmussen said.

It was Caberneigh also has 14 seconds and 21 thirds in a career for which he’s now earned $447,478, which includes placing in a few stakes. He earned his first victory at Ellis Park — way back in 2007. He has won at least once in each of his 11 seasons except for being shut out in 2015.

Horses, humans OK after scary van wreck

Three horses trained by Dale Romans were scratched from Ellis’ opening card after being involved in a wreck on Interstate 64 near Dale, Ind., while in transit from Churchill Downs early Saturday morning. Romans said the truck and trailer transporting the horses were totaled and it’s blessing that no person or horse was seriously harmed.

“The horses are fine, everybody is OK,” Romans said by phone from Louisville. “The truck and trailer are tore up. It wiped the truck out. From what I hear, the truck and trailer are totaled.…. I really don’t know (what happened), never will probably… The first thing is it’s good the people didn’t get hurt. And the second thing is it’s good the horses didn’t get hurt. Very, very fortunate the way it turned out. We ship thousands of miles without incident. (But) really nothing is routine.”

Romans said the colts Where’s Lew (first race) and Fire For Effect (eighth) were physically fine. The filly Front Row Debbie (sixth race) had two surgical staples to close a cut on her shoulder.

“I didn’t want to run any of them after that, without being there to see them,” he said. “Even if they were physically fine, they had to mentally be shook up.”

Ellis Park-based trainer John Hancock received a phone call asking if he could come and fetch the horses and Romans’ employees who’d ridden along.

“They said they were at the 57-mile marker. I said, ‘I’ll hook up now. I’m on my way,’” Hancock said. “It was jack-knifed. I went and got them. The cop stopped traffic, and we loaded them on the highway and hauled them back here, all the help and equipment. The cab was smashed. The side of the truck was caved in.”

Romans said the horses were returning to Churchill Downs Saturday afternoon.

Sprinting out: Buff Bradley, a four-time Ellis training champion, won the fourth race with Cantcatchchanneled for his overall career victory No. 499…. Sunday is the first Value Day of the meet, with discounted prices on draft beer, sodas, hotdogs, peanuts and chips. Kids are invited to engage in foot races on the track after the races Sunday.… Ellis Park races four straight days, with special holiday cards Monday and Tuesday before launching the standard Fridays-through-Sundays schedule. First post is 12:50 p.m. Central every day.