06/10/2011 3:41PM

Churchill Downs: Arabians get a shot at track

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The most hallowed ground in Thoroughbred racing is availing itself for one race to another breed. Churchill Downs has agreed to allow Abu Dhabi, the capital and governmental seat of the United Arab Emirates, to sponsor an Arabian race that will be run here next Saturday, June 18, as one of 12 races on the Stephen Foster program.

The $50,000 President of United Arab Emirates Cup will be run at 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby, in what is believed to be the first race for other breeds in modern times at Churchill.

The move is not without precedent in Kentucky. Keeneland ran a parimutuel race for Arabians at the 2010 fall meet for the first time in its history, and the race attracted considerable interest, if only for it being a novelty. That race also was sponsored by Abu Dhabi, which is in the process of trying to increase its profile in racing and sponsors a worldwide series of races for Arabians.

Arabians, which are considerably slower than their Thoroughbred counterparts, race regularly at a handful of venues in America, most notably at Delaware Park.

Only 10 horses were nominated to the Churchill race, but one of them is Grilla, who won the Keeneland race for owner-trainer Bill Waldron when completing 1 1/4 miles in 2:15.42 over Polytrack. Grilla paid $9.40 as the second choice at Keeneland.

Crown of Thorns eyes Stephen Foster

With no standout atop the ranks of North American handicap runners, trainer Richard Mandella thought he would go out of his way to give Crown of Thorns a shot in the Grade 1, $500,000 Foster, one of four graded stakes here next Saturday.

Crown of Thorns, based at Santa Anita, is owned by the Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes. The 6-year-old horse won the Grade 2 Mervyn Leroy on May 7 at Hollywood Park in his last start to emerge as perhaps the top handicap horse in Southern California.

“It’s good money there for the Foster,” Mandella said. “Plus, the timing of the Californian and the Met Mile weren’t quite right for us. I’d also love to see how the horse likes the track there at Churchill,” considering the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be run here again this fall.

Crown of Thorns, scheduled to arrive here Tuesday, is one of about a dozen older horses being pointed to the 1 1/8-mile Foster. Other probables include First Dude, Giant Oak, Regal Ransom, Equestrio, Duke of Mischief, Mission Impazible, and Apart.

Maple Leaf Kitten points to Queen’s Plate

Billy Hays and his family have an appointment with the queen – the Queen’s Plate, that is.

Hays, who with wife Donna and son Justin continues to lead the North American owner standings in wins, has decided to send a colt named Maple Leaf Kitten to Canada’s most prestigious race. The $1 million Queen’s Plate is set for June 26 at Woodbine near Toronto.

Maple Leaf Kitten, a Kitten’s Joy colt claimed for $75,000 in March, recently won a maiden turf race at Indiana Downs.

“He’s Ontario-bred, and he’s obviously going in the right direction,” said Joe Woodard, the main trainer for the Hayses. “He looks like the type who’s going to keep getting better with distance.”

Woodard said he plans to ship Maple Leaf Kitten to Woodbine three days before the race and that he and the Hays family will be in attendance for the Queen’s Plate, which is run at 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack.

Into Friday action, the Hayses led all owners in 2011 with 145 winners, just ahead of Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (140).

Jerry Barry Jack still looking for No. 2

Defining a “fluke” race can be a tricky endeavor, but in the case of Jerry Barry Jack, there now seems little doubt that his victory at 98-1 in his career debut on Nov. 5, 2009, at Churchill can be labeled as such.

Jerry Barry Jack, co-owned and trained by Phillip Jones, has run nine times since then and has never come remotely close to repeating that kind of effort. He will be a huge price again Sunday when trying allowance company in the eighth race at Churchill.

After Jerry Barry Jack, now 5, earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure in that stunning first start, Jones said he turned down numerous lucrative offers for the horse. Jones is a long-distance truck driver from Lexington.