The location of Ian Wilkes’ barn at the far end of Clare Court might be one of the best on the grounds. The barn sits in a quiet spot on the corner, with Nelson Avenue to the west and the Greentree property to the south.
There’s no through traffic, unless you count horses zipping past on the Clare Court track. The only visitors are the kind one would expect – jockeys and their agents, veterinarians, reporters. Wilkes, based at Churchill Downs for most of the year, keeps a string in New York in the spring and fall and his Saratoga group often includes the best prospects from both.
The native of Australia who came to the U.S. to work for Carl Nafzger in 1990, doesn’t hype his horses but likes his group for 2015.
“I’ve got some nice horses,” Wilkes said earlier this week.
The group includes Free As A Bird, who won the Caress and Smart N Fancy last year and finished second in her Caress title defense Sunday, multiple graded stakes winner Neck ‘n Neck, stakes winner Viva Majorca and the promising and multiple graded stakes-placed 3-year-old fillies Sweetgrass and Silverpocketsfull.
“I’ve got some good fillies,” he said. “I don’t know what the deal is with that. I guess I’m talking to them nicely.”
Two horses trained by Wilkes’ former boss, Shuvee third Tiz Windy and starter-allowance filly Defoe Street, are also bedded down in Barn 6.
Tuesday morning with all the sets trained and relaxing, Wilkes sat in the golf cart he never drives to the main track to watch his horses train and talked about the group with The Special’s Tom Law.
Free As A Bird: “She came out of the Caress fine. She’s a tough filly as you know, but fun. She’s quite a character but she’s very tough. Ultra-consistent mare. Couldn’t ask for a 6-year-old mare to be any more consistent. I’ll run her back in the Smart N Fancy. I was hoping to win the Caress, too, since I won that last year. Jimmy Toner spoiled the party. He didn’t get the memo.”
Sweetgrass: “She was second in the Indiana Oaks. She’s come a long way in a short time. She didn’t run until January and she’s Grade 2 stakes-placed, third in the Iowa Oaks, second in the Indiana Oaks. She ran down (when seventh) in the Black-Eyed Susan. That’s the only bad race she’s run. I’m going to nominate her to the Alabama as well. See how she trains up to it.”
Gorgeous Bird:“He’s in the Hall of Fame (finished off the board). I’m going to try him on the turf. Tough spot. That’s unusual saying that up here isn’t it? He worked good on the turf, solid work. He’s just not finishing off his races on the dirt so I want to try him on the turf. If there had been a two-other-than you’d have to make a decision, do you run in that against older boys, optional claiming $62,500? They’re tough old knockers. Do you go to a stakes? That’s not easy either.”
Silverpocketsfull: “She’s a 3-year-old filly, finished third in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. I gave her a break, then she came back and ran fifth in the Indiana Oaks. Nice filly, going to be a really nice 4-year-old. I’m going to nominate her to the Alabama, see how she does.”
The Great Whiteway: “He’s by Nobiz Like Shobiz. He ran once, finished fifth (July 4 at Belmont Park). He’s a homebred for Mrs. Elizabeth Valando. He’s a little horse, a 2-year-old, and hopefully he’ll come back and run a little better for us.”
Dunk A Din: “He’s by Dunkirk (out of Caged Glory, by Honour and Glory). Nice, big, good-looking colt. Tough colt. He’s one for Marylou Whitney.”
Neck ‘N Neck: “I’ve got the old boy here. He’s going to run Sunday in the Alydar. He was fourth in the Suburban. He’s doing well, starting to round back in. He had a couple subpar races but now he’s coming back into form. Where we go after that will depend on how he runs.”
Ready For You: “He’s an unraced 3-year-old by More Than Ready and ready to run. The race never filled the other day for him. I wanted to run him on the turf, short. He’ll go long, but for me, my style, get a race into him, get a good education and then we move forward from there.”
Tiz Town: “He’s a 3-year-old by Tiznow (out of Bird Town) for Marylou. I scratched him the other day. He had a little bit of a cough but he’s doing well now. We’ll come back in an a-other-than.”
Bird Sense (third in Aug. 5 maiden race): “She’s run three times. Two thirds and a second. She’s a Street Sense and a half-sister to Bird Maker (who ran in last week’s Shine Again). It’s funny how you’ll end up on the same day with sisters and brothers. It’s amazing.”
Windradyne: “My wife named him, so blame her. He’s by Warrior’s Reward and Bob Manfuso and Tracey own him together. He’s a big, good-looking gelding who hasn’t raced yet. He’s 3 and came up with some shins so he’s going to be a little bit longer now. We foal-shared, I had the Warrior’s Reward breeding right. Warrior’s Reward is doing well, he just needs a big horse.”