06/12/2013 2:09PM

Churchill Downs: Golden Soul eyes Virginia Derby

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Churchill Down/Reed Palmer Photography
Golden Sou, shown working at Churchill Downs, will be pointed to the July 13 Virginia Derby on turf at Colonial Downs.

Trainer Dallas Stewart said Wednesday that the July 13 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs is the likely next start for Golden Soul, the Kentucky Derby runner-up who finished ninth, beaten nearly 11 lengths, in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday.

“I don’t want to shorten him up,” said Stewart, alluding to the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby, which will mark the grass debut for Golden Soul. “We can run there and then go back in the Travers” on dirt on Aug. 24 at Saratoga. “We’d be turf-to-dirt in the Travers, which might be pretty interesting.”

Golden Soul was nearly 12-1 in the Belmont when lagging in last place through the early stages. He eventually moved up to seventh before flattening out to be ninth.

“He ran okay and got a little tired,” Stewart said. “He just couldn’t catch up. The good news is he came back great. He jogged with a lot of energy this morning in his first day back.”

Stewart also said he has a prospect for the July 27 Jim Dandy at Saratoga in Perfect Title, an impressive last-to-first winner of a first-level allowance route here last Friday. Perfect Title, like Golden Soul, was bred and is owned by Charles Fipke.

Optimizer targets Arlington Million

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the Aug. 17 Arlington Million is the likely next start for Optimizer, the turf standout who earned a career-high 101 Beyer Speed Figure when narrowly defeated by Point of Entry last Saturday in the Grade 1 Manhattan on the Belmont undercard.

“He’s had a pretty steady run, so the timing should work well,” said Lukas, noting that Optimizer already has had seven races this year.

Lukas said he also is considering turf races for Will Take Charge, who competed in all three Triple Crown events.

“I have a feeling he might be one of those horses that adapts to the grass,” he said.

Will Take Charge was eighth in the Derby, seventh in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont.

On Fire Baby still under watch

On Fire Baby remained under observation Wednesday morning at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, some 36 hours after being transported there when showing symptoms of colic and spiking a fever.

Gary Hartlage, who trains On Fire Baby for owner-breeder Anita Cauley, said Hagyard personnel informed him the 4-year-old filly was “doing okay, but they haven’t really pinned anything down yet. Hopefully, today she’ll get a lot better.”

Before taking ill, On Fire Baby, winner of the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April, was expected to be second choice to heavily favored Royal Delta in the Fleur de Lis Handicap here Saturday.

New owner wins first race

Jerry Hills was in the middle of all the hoopla as the self-described “right-hand man, running mate, stable mascot, and bucket boy” to septuagenarian trainer Tom McCarthy during the halcyon days of General Quarters.

Last Friday at Churchill, Hills got a different kind of thrill.

Hills, 59, is a principal in the newly formed (and cleverly named) Run for the Hills Stable, which was represented by its first starter last Friday, a 3-year-old filly named Greek Bird. Claimed for $30,000 in a three-way shake from her prior start May 17, Greek Bird was up in the final strides to win a maiden-claiming sprint when competing for a $45,000 tag. McCarthy, now 79, is the trainer, with Hills, as usual, serving in a variety of how-can-I-help capacities, including hot walker.

“It was a great day, a lucky day, just unbelievable,” said Hills, whose partners are Ron Growe and Tim McCarthy, the trainer’s son. “I had tiny pieces of partnerships in horses years ago, but this is the first time I’ve owned one like this.”

Tom McCarthy was the subject of one of the best feel-good racing stories of recent years as the owner-trainer of General Quarters, who won the 2009 Blue Grass Stakes and 2010 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic while earning more than $1.2 million. McCarthy, a retired schoolteacher and principal, has only one or two horses in training at a time.

◗ Churchill publicity assistant Travers Manley uncovered an interesting fact about Missing Sefa, an 11-year-old mare who won a $7,500 claiming race here last Friday. The victory was her 24th from 91 career starts, but perhaps more notably, it came more than nine years since her debut win at Churchill on May 26, 2004, in a maiden race.

◗ Michael McGary, the former jockey agent known only as Clarence, is recovering from a leg amputation and suffering from cancer and diabetes while living in a Louisville homeless shelter. Clarence was badly injured in a hit-and-run accident in January, but said recently he is maintaining his familiar upbeat outlook and that he hopes to be at Saratoga this summer after an insurance payment comes through.