It was Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend at Ellis Park last weekend (Aug. 5 and 6), and each of the seven stakes written across the two days awarded automatic berths into corresponding races at Kentucky Downs. That lucrative meet runs Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 3, 7, 9, 10 and 13.
The $300,000 Pucker Up Stakes (G3)
A third-place finish in a graded stakes is nothing to shake a stick at, but you have to watch Freydis the Red (FR)’s run in the Pucker Up to understand how nice of an effort this was from the 6-1 shot.
Drawing the outside gate and having decent early foot, she broke well and threatened to find herself six-wide or more in the first turn. Brian “B.J.” Hernandez rightfully tucks her in but winds up at the back of the pack coming out of the turn. The turf course was playing fast and carrying speed on Sunday, so it would be a tall assignment to mow down the likes of Safeen and Bling, who finished one, two.
Some turf stars show a burst of speed late, others show off their power; file Freydis in the latter category, as she rallied home the final furlong in 11.58 seconds, the fastest in the field. Having shown nicely in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks (G1), going further doesn’t seem to be a problem for Kenny McPeek’s three-year-old filly, who regressed earning a 78 Brisnet Speed figure but overcame a subtly tough trip and a course favoring forward runners.
With her victory in the Pucker Up, Safeen earned a spot in the $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks (G3), which will be run on Sept. 3.
The $250,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup
How about that late kick from Me and Mr. C? Getting Mike Maker his first mark in the win column after 28 starts this meet, the six-year-old ridden by Gerardo Corrales stormed from the back of the pack to win the 1 1/4 miles Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at 16-1, nailing Cellist at the wire.
Coming out of the far turn, things looked tight for Me and Mr. C, but a clean lane opened up for him to gather his run. Still, in the final stages, it didn’t look like he would be able to fight to the top, as Get Smokin and Cellist were hanging on, and War Campaign and Siege of Boston were finding their best run late.
Me and Mr. C tied the course record of 1:57.94, set by Bluegrass Parkway in 2021. He received a berth to the Sept. 9, $1.7 million Kentucky Downs Turf Cup (G2). The 108 Brisnet Speed figure, 16 points higher than his previous best, should be looked at judiciously going forward considering how fast they were flying across the Pea Patch green.
The $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint
Possibly the opposite reaction should be applied to the 94 Brisnet speed figure One Timer earned taking the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint on Sunday. After hounding Just Might through the toll-taking 21.23-, 43.43-, and 54.82-second opening fractions, One Timer had enough left to hold off the late kicks of Bad Beat Brian and Oceanic. Larry Rivelli’s lightly-raced four-year-old just banked win No. 7 in 11 career starts, including the 20-1 upset in last year’s $600,000 Franklin-Simpson (G2) at Kentucky Downs.
Neither of Kenny McPeek’s freshman duo won the one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday, but both impressed me more than the winner, West Saratoga.
Speed and the rail at Ellis have been the advantaged style and position, and after the rail-skimming frontrunning winner had shot away from the field in the final furlongs, Generous Tipper was putting in a visually-impressive late run down the center of the track, narrowing the margin of defeat to a little over a length. After going one mile on the turf in his debut, the son of Street Sense definitely has a nice late move, and I could see him heading back to that surface.
A distant third place went to Django, who lost five lengths out of the gate and traveled as far as five-wide in the turn, took a knock, but still beat seven others home. A half to graded stakes sprinter Finley’sluckycharm and the eight-time turf winner M C Squared, Django’s next spot could be shorter or maybe on the grass, but either way he needs to figure out how to break cleanly. Once he does, watch out.