Pleuven back to defend his 2016 Cliff Guilliams victory

Pleuven winning the 2016 Grade 2 Wise Dan at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography

HENDERSON, Ky. (Saturday, August 12, 2017) — Headed by 2016 winner Pleuven, 10 older horses are expected to square off in Sunday’s $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Handicap at Ellis Park. The turf stakes is named for the late Evansville racetrack chart-caller, sportswriter, Ellis’ unofficial publicist and historian, as well as a certified character known for his blunt and sometimes abrasive opinions but also his generosity and fierce loyalty to friends.

Even with the scratches of second-choice Chocolate Ride and the 3-year-old Dawn Raider, it’s a field that would have made Guilliams proud, featuring graded-stakes winners Pleuven, Flatlined, One Mean Man and One Go All Go. Adding to the depth are the stakes-winning Hawaakom, Sir Dudley Digges and Racer, along with Ellis Park allowance winner Adventist, who at one point last year was a Kentucky Derby candidate.

Trainer Mike Maker entered the trio of Sir Dudley Digges, Adventist and Flashy Chelsey. Owned by Kentucky’s all-time winningest owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Sir Dudley Digges won last year’s $1 million (Canadian) Queen’s Plate for Ontario-born horses. Flashy Chelsey won over the Ellis turf last summer and rallied to finish second by a neck in last fall’s $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald. After being claimed for $62,500 at Churchill Downs this spring, Flashy Chelsey was a respectable sixth, beaten a total of three lengths, in Arlington Park’s Grade 3 Stars and Stripes.

Cliff Guilliams. Photo courtesy Evansville Courier & Press

Pleuven won last year’s Cliff Guilliams as well as Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Wise Dan. After winning Churchill’s Opening Verse in May, the 6-year-old gelding was completely bottled up in mid-stretch in his Wise Dan defense, finishing sixth. The winner that day, Kasaqui, was to run in Saturday’s Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Guilliams was a chart-caller, known for his meticulous description of each horse’s trip in the footnotes, for Daily Racing Form and then Equibase. He also served as racing correspondent and handicapper for the Courier & Press, as well as making selections for Keeneland and Churchill for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, when he died in Louisville at age 52 in April 2008, the night after penning the chart for Keeneland’s Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Hall of Fame trainer and owner Robert LaPenta named a colt after Guilliams called The Cliff’s Edge, who went on to win two 2-year-old stakes at Churchill Downs in 2003 and the 2004 Blue Grass before finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby. The Cliff’s Edge also was second in the Travers to the Zito-trained Birdstone.