The Saturday Special – April 13

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Crowds showed up at Keeneland last weekend for the start of the spring meeting and figure to be out again Saturday for Jenny Wiley/Coolmore Lexington Day. Keeneland Photo.

Approaching the midpoint of April and just three weeks remaining until the historic 150th renewal of the Kentucky Derby. The Saturday Special covers the final “prep” for the Derby and we dig into the Grand National card from Aintree. A little of that, and plenty more for this week’s edition. Enjoy.

Names of the Day
Air It Out. Keeneland. Race 3. The 3-year-old colt is out of Singing Hills.

Wine And Waves. Keeneland. Race 5. Spendthrift’s homebred is by Vino Rosso out of Malibu Pier. Oh, that’s good.

Play The Music. Keeneland. Race 7. The 4-year-old filly is by Mo Town.

Nicks calls it a career Sunday at Gulfstream Park
Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
Trainer Ralph Nicks said Thursday that he will call it a career Sunday after saddling a horse for the final time at Gulfstream Park.

“It’s time,” Nicks said. “I’ve been here a long time. It’s just the way the business is going, with clients passing away. I’ve had a lot of years invested. I want to get away and do some things before I get too old and can’t.”

The 57-year-old Avery, Texas, native has saddled 722 winners, including Caledonia Road, the winner of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar who was subsequently honored with the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly, and Aubby K, a multiple graded stakes winner who captured the Grade 1 Humana Distaff in 2013 at Churchill Downs.

“I’ve had a pretty good career. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’ve trained a champion and nine [Florida Sire Stakes] winners, as well as several other stakes winners,” he said. “I’ve had a good run, and maybe it’s time for a new chapter.”   

Nicks is looking forward to hitting the road.

“I’m going to take some time and do some traveling around the U.S.,” said Nicks, who has one entry on Saturday’s program and three on Sunday’s card at Gulfstream.

Nicks learned the training craft from his father Morris Nicks before eventually becoming an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. During his tenure, Cigar was the king of the Mott barn while winning 16 straight races, including victories in the 1995 Donn Handicap and the 1996 Gulfstream Park Handicap, as well as back-to-back Horse of the Year titles.

“That’s one of those things that you have to pinch yourself and say, ‘Am I living in a dream world?’ ” Nicks said. “You’d have to rate him as one of the greatest horses of all time, but there were other very special horses there during that run, like Paradise Creek, Ajina, Escena, Boundary – I could go down a huge list of horses that we’ve gotten our hands on or got to throw a leg across.”

Nicks, who trained in Kentucky and New York before settling in South Florida 10 years ago, hasn’t ruled out a future return to the racing industry in some capacity.

“If I had to make an immediate decision, I might want to get into some consulting, buying yearlings and things like that at some point, but as of right now, I’m going to clear the head and enjoy life a little bit before I can’t,” Nicks said. “I’m going to reboot the mind and see where it takes me.”

Derby Handicapping
Looking for some handicapping advice for the 150th Kentucky Derby? Perhaps you’re in the Lexington area and need to kill some time, how about swinging by the Keeneland Library to hear some insights on the historic race from ST Publishing’s Tom Law. Tickets are available for “Handicapping the Derby with Tom Law,” set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1 at the Keeneland Library.

Law, winner of the Red Smith Kentucky Derby Writing Award and multiple Eclipse Awards for his racing coverage will discuss all the leading contenders for this year’s historic Run for the Roses and supporting undercard at Churchill Downs. 

Reception with refreshments at 6:00 p.m.; program from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Keeneland Library.

To purchase tickets, click here.

Handicapper’s Corner
Speaking of handicapping, a week after doubling up with Wood Memorial Day and Blue Grass Day our team is back with just a single task this week and Saturday’s Jenny Wiley Day card at Keeneland. Check out the picks from the team at The Saratoga Special:

John Shapazian (26/96):
1-Iguazu, Missile, Gloriette.
2-Theraonrunner, Liam’s Champ, Sassy Walker.
3-Modern Day Warrior, Eirik Ridge, True Faith.
4-Shadow Surge, Red State, Beckster.
5-Scarlet Poppy, Spaliday, Tempting Lady.
6-Julia Shining, Magical Lute, Fireline.
7-Play The Music, Elm Drive, Roses For Debra.
8-Classic Catch, Transect, Hayes Strike.
9-Fluffy Socks, English Rose, Surge Capacity.
10-Hades, The Wine Steward, Liberal Arts.
11-Pure Poetry, Deadpan, Royal Majesty.

Tom Law (23/96):
1-Missile, Iguazu, Gloriette.
2-Theroanrunner, Liam’s Champ, St. Benedict’s Prep.
3-Eirik Ridge, True Faith, Summonyourcourage.
4-Shadow Surge, Red State, Beckster.
5-Spaliday, Pin Up Betty, Scarlet Poppy.
6-Julia Shining, Fireline, Joke Sisi.
7-Roses For Debra, Play The Music, Elm Drive.
8-Classic Catch, Gilcrease, Transect.
9-Didia, Surge Capacity, Gina Romantica.
10-Liberal Arts, Encino, Hades.
11-Royal Majesty, Gorilla Trek, Pure Poetry.

Charles Bedard (20/96):
1-Missile, Gloriette, Let’s Go Brandi.
2-Sassy Walker, Theroanrunner, Rosia Bay.
3-Summonyourcourage, Zeca Diablo, Air It Out
4-Beckster, Red State, Brody.
5-Tempting Lady, Argan, Scarlet Poppy.
6-Julia Shining, Musical Mischief, Fireline.
7-Play The Music, Kissed By Fire, Oeuvre.
8-Classic Catch, Hayes Strike, Romans entry.
9-English Rose, Gina Romantica, Didia.
10-Encino, Liberal Arts, The Wine Steward.
11-St. Armands Key, Royal Majesty, Break Out.

Rob Whitlock (17/84):
1-Missile, Stuck On You, Iguazu.
2-Rosia Bay, Theroanrunner, Liam’s Champ.
3-Eirik Ridge, Modern Day Warrior, Air It Out.
4-Teen Idol, Let’s Bounce, Red State.
5-Pin Up Betty, Spaliday, Wine And Waves.
6-Julia Shining, Fireline, Musical Mischief.
7-Bling, Roses For Debra, Breeze Easy.
8-Gilcrease, Classic Catch, Brigadier General.
9-Star Fortress, Gina Romantica, English Rose.
10-Encino, Dilger, The Wine Steward.
11-Frontline Warrior, Moonlight, St Armand’s Key.

Jessica Paquette (23/96):
1-Missile, Andrea Beach, Iguazu.
2-Theroanrunner, Malawnia, Birdie Rose.
3-Sir Greylind, Eirik Ridge, True Faith.
4-Shadow Surge, Teen Idol, Beckster.
5-Ready For Shirl, Spaliday, Pin Up Betty.
6-Joke Sisi, Julia Shining, Fireline.
7-Oeuvre, Bling, Play The Music.
8-Gilcrease, Classic Catch, Hayes Strike.
9-Didia, Elusive Princess, English Rose.
10-Hades, Encino, The Wine Steward.
11-Pure Poetry, Incinerator, Royal Majesty.

By the Numbers
53: Wins for jockey Juan Hernandez during Santa Anita Park’s 46-day Classic Meet which closed Sunday. Hernandez also led all riders with purse earnings of $3,683,348.

30: Victories for trainer Doug O’Neill to top the standings at Santa Anita.

11: Wins for Hronis Racing to top the owner’s standings at the Santa Anita Classic Meet.

Worth Repeating
“I’m just grateful to be at the Great Race Place.”
Doug O’Neill, who topped the Santa Anita 2023-24 Classic Meet trainer standings with 30 wins

“This kind of award is about the barn and the procedures that go through it.”
Kosta Hronis on topping the Santa Anita owner’s race

“I am so proud to represent my home state, taking part in one of the most storied and iconic traditions. The Kentucky Derby is something I look forward to every year and being able to perform this year makes the momentous event even more special.” 
Country music icon and five-time Grammy winner Wynonna Judd on singing the national anthem at the 150th Kentucky Derby

“We’re excited about this year, and we’re excited to get him back to New York. We’re hoping he does good tomorrow.”
Co-owner David Staudacher on the return of New York-bred stakes winner and Grade 1-placed The Wine Steward in Saturday’s Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland

Clabes joins team at PDJF
The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund announced the expansion of its staff and the appointment of Joe Clabes as executive director, joining existing President Nancy LaSala. The appointment comes as the PDJF continues to grow its impact and support for permanently disabled jockeys.

Clabes brings a wealth of experience and passion to his new role. With a strong background in non-profit management and a deep understanding of the racing industry, Clabes will oversee finance, technology, internal operations and controls and disbursement of benefits to disabled jockeys. He will work closely with LaSala and the Board to implement strategic initiatives, support fundraising efforts and enhance the organization’s outreach and support programs.

LaSala has served as president since the PDJF inception in 2006, and executive director since 2009. As President and primary spokesperson for the organization, she will continue to work with our industry partners, donors, our professional jockeys from the past and present and our recipients to build on and expand fundraising opportunities and initiatives.

Jockey of the Week
Saturday was an important racing day featuring the last major prep races across the country for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. But it was international superstar jockey Frankie Dettori who stole the limelight. His six straight wins, including two stakes races at Santa Anita on Santa Anita Derby Day, earned him Jockey of the Week honors for April 1-7 from the panel of racing experts.

The weekly award recognizes jockeys for riding accomplishments and who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization which represents more than 1050 active, retired and permanently disabled jockeys in the U.S.

Dettori started the week Friday, Opening Day at Keeneland. Next, it was a flight back to California for 11 mounts on the 12-race card at Santa Anita.

“Oh my god, I’m 53. I can’t remember riding 11 races in a day,” Dettori joked. “I hope I can make it.”

Not only did he make it, he had one of the great afternoons in Santa Anita history.

The six-race win streak began in the second race, a maiden win aboard Ball Don’t Lie. A win followed in the third with Recinto Rompere in an allowance turf race. Dettori won the fourth, the Evening Jewel Stakes with Roberta’s Love, and the fifth, a maiden, aboard Kathynmarissa.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert enlisted Dettori for the mount on Nothing Like You in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks. When Dettori climbed aboard his mount in the seventh, fans had gotten wise and made Royal Charter the 4-1 favorite in the field of 12. The victory also marked the 16th time a rider won six races in a day at Santa Anita.

Dettori had four chances for a seventh win but fell short, the closest being a second aboard Imagination for Baffert in the Grade Santa Anita Derby.

“It was beyond my wildest dreams to win six races on Derby Day,” said Dettori. “Are you joking me? I’m enjoying it.”

As for the races …

Aintree. Race 2. 8:55 a.m. Caldwell Potter, purchased for €750,000 in February, makes his debut for Paul Nicholls in the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.  

Aintree. Race 4. 10:05. American Grand National winner Hewick returns to hurdles for the Grade 1 JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle. We like Buddy One at a price.

Aintree. Race 5. 11:00. The Randox Grand National. Sure, it’s not the same race as it once was (what is these days?) but it’s still the Grand National and a $1.27 million purse. Willie Mullins could achieve another goal in a lifetime of goals with a win here. The Irish maestro sends out Capodanno, I Am Maximus, Janidil, Stattler, Mr Incredible, Adamantly Chosen, Mettingofthewaters and Glengouly. A winner amongst them and Mullins could be champion trainer in Britain.

Aintree. Race 6. Noon. The Grade 1 stakes continue with the My Pension Expert Maghull Novices’ Chase. Hercule Du Seuil rides a five-race win streak and a six-month layoff for Mullins.

Gulfstream Park. Race 2. 1:41 p.m. Ticker Tape Home, a stakes competitor the last two seasons, makes 2024 debut in 5-furlong turf optional for fillies and mares.

Aqueduct. Race 2. 1:51. Brad Cox unveils the New York-bred Gun Runner first-time starter Mulkey, who cost $450,000 last May, in 6-furlong maiden for state-bred fillies.

Laurel Park. Race 4. 2:01. Intrepid Dream takes four-race win streak into her stakes debut in the $100,000 Heavenly Cause at 1 mile.

Mahoning Valley Race Course. Race 6. 2:35. Eight Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies entered for the $75,000 Southern Park Stakes at 6 furlongs.

Gulfstream. Race 4. 2:43. Lakers fans will be all about Bron And Brow. Will the son of Gormley fare better in this 6-furlong allowance-optional than the Los Angeles Lakers, destined for a play-in game early next week?

Mahoning Valley. Race 7. 3:06. Big field of Ohio-bred sophomores for the $75,000 Howard B. Noonan. We’ll go with Alwaysintomischief on his return to the Buckeye State.

Gulfstream. Race 5. 3:14. One of Tom Law’s favorites, De La Cruz, makes his second start in the maiden ranks. Tom and Bret Jones figure to catch up on all things Cincinnati Reds, Elly De La Cruz and this son of Divisidero next week at Keeneland.

Keeneland Race Course. Race 6. 3:40. Grade 2 winner Julia Shining, off since close second in the Grade 3 Comely in late November at Aqueduct, makes return to Lexington in two-turn allowance-optional. Daughter of Curlin broke her maiden at Keeneland and finished a close third in last year’s Grade 1 Ashland.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:05. New York-breds Secret Love and Kant Hurry Love ship from Belmont to take on the Parx duo of Disco Ebo and Centre Court Champ in the $100,000 Primonetta Stakes at 6 furlongs.

Tampa Bay Downs. Race 8. 4:07. One more shot for Mellifluous. Son of Coal Front, featured in Bill Mott’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour last summer, makes his fourth start in 6-furlong maiden.

Keeneland. Race 7. 4:12. Roses For Debra, a multiple stakes winner last year who became the wise-guy pick in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, returns in the Grade 3 Giant’s Causeway. Full field for 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint stakes also includes graded stakes winners Elm Drive and Secret Money, multiple stakes winners Love Reigns and Oeuvre and promising Play The Music and Bling.

Laurel. Race 9. 4:35. Tough group to sort in the $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley. Named for one of the absolute legends, 7-furlong stakes features a field of nine led by Swiftsure, Twenty Four Mamba, Royal Ship and Coastal Mission.

Keeneland. Race 8. 4:44. Stakes-caliber allowance-optional attracts the likes of Transect, Giant Game, Frosted Departure, Gilcrease and Classic Catch.

Oaklawn Park. Race 8. 4:56. Jaxon Traveler looks to move into the seven figures in earnings and three straight wins in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. Consistent Maryland-bred will need to outrun stablemates Skelly and Ryvit, and Tejano Twist in $500,000 stakes.

Laurel. Race 10. 5:08. The fourth and final stakes of the day, and another named for one of racing’s all-time greats, the $100,000 Native Dancer. On paper it looks like Shaft’s Bullet versus Be Better.

Keeneland. Race 9. 5:16. Didia, winner of the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf and 10 of 15 starts overall, makes her local debut in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley. Daughter of Orpen trains regularly with Ignacio Correas at Keeneland. She meets Surge Capacity, Gina Romantica, Beaute Cachee and Fluffy Socks from trainer Chad Brown’s deep barn, along with Elusive Princess and English Rose.

Keeneland. Race 10. 5:48. Last chance saloon for Kentucky Derby points with the $400,000, Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington. Hades, winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull and fifth in the Florida Derby, needs the points to earn a spot in the Derby gate. Others are trying to establish or reestablish themselves, including Grade 3 winner Liberal Arts, Encino and The Wine Steward. Interesting race.

Keeneland. Race 11. 6:20. Don’t hit the exits just yet, solid two-turn turf allowance for 3-year-olds to close the card. Get out on Royal Majesty.

Fonner Park. Race 9. 6:22. The featured event from Nebraska, the $15,000 Baxter Stakes at 6 furlongs.

Oaklawn. Race 11. 6:46. Strong renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Apple Blossom Handicap with the likes of Grade 1 winners Wet Paint and Adare Manor, Grade 2 winner Taxed and Grade 3 winners Honor D Lady, Bellamore and Shotgun Hottie in the field.

Charles Town Races. Race 10. 10:02. Still rolling along? Here’s the $75,000 Original Gold Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares at 7 furlongs.