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Frankel has full stakes plate
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bobby Frankel on Saturday will have plenty of activity to keep his mind occupied before the Kentucky Derby.
Frankel will have runners in four of the five undercard stakes races at Churchill Downs prior to saddling Empire Maker and Peace Rules in the 129th Derby. Saturday's card comprises 12 races with a first post of 11:15 a.m.
In the Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Frankel has entered both Requete and Epicentre, though only Requete is expected to start. Requete, a 4-year-old Juddmonte Farms homebred, won his first two starts in this country before finishing sixth, beaten three lengths, in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds.
Frankel won the Woodford Reserve last year with Beat Hollow. With Anticipation, a horse Beat Hollow defeated last year, makes his 8-year-old debut in the nine-furlong Woodford Reserve. With Anticipation, who won three Grade 1's last year, is making his first start since running second in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf.
Rouvres, a Group 1 winner in France last year, may be the horse to beat for trainer Christophe Clement. He was beaten a neck in the Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap, his second start in the United States. He won a Gulfstream allowance race impressively in his U.S. debut.
Perfect Drift, third in last year's Kentucky Derby, and Century City, winner of the Arcadia Handicap, are also among the contenders in the nine-horse field.
In the $200,000 Humana Distaff, Frankel will send out Sightseek in hopes of getting her a first Grade 1 stakes victory. Sightseek, a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Tates Creek, has finished second in three consecutive graded stakes this year, including the Santa Margarita Handicap March 9.
Her competition includes Gold Mover, who finished first in this race last year but was disqualified for interference in the stretch. Miss Lodi, runner-up to Sightseek in last year's Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland, and Palmarola, a multiple group stakes winner in Argentina, are other notables in the nine-horse field.
In the Grade 3, $100,000 Citgo Distaff Mile for fillies and mares on turf, Frankel will saddle Heat Haze, who is 2 for 2 since coming to this country from France. She returns following a three-length victory in the Grade 3 Las Cinegas Handicap at Santa Anita April 5.
Dedication, a Group 1 winner in France who just missed in her North American debut at Tampa in March, is the major threat in the 12-horse field.
Frankel's day begins in the Grade 2, $200,000 Churchill Downs Handicap in which he sends out Aldebaran, winner of the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap in March and second-place finisher in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last month.
The seven-furlong Churchill Downs features the return of Proud Citizen, the runner-up in last year's Kentucky Derby, who suffered a fractured knee in the Belmont Stakes. He drew post 13.
The only stakes race Saturday in which Frankel will not participate is the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile for 2-year-olds. Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out the uncoupled trio of Heckle, Limehouse, and Korsakoff, all returning following first-out maiden wins at Keeneland.
Perfect Drift's long, cold winter
Perfect Drift, who finished third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, did not have the easiest of vacations last winter.
While some horses that are given time off remain at a racing stable or are turned out in sunny climates such as Florida, Perfect Drift went to Stonecrest Farm in Kansas City, which is owned by the horse's owner, Dr. William A. Reed.
"He got kicked and bitten," trainer Murray Johnson said of Perfect Drift. "He was out in the cold."
If anything, the time off may have toughened Perfect Drift. He returned to Johnson in February and scored a comeback win in an allowance race on turf at Keeneland April 11.
The victory has led to a start in Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which will be Perfect Drift's first try in a turf stakes race.
Johnson must hope that Perfect Drift's erratic form is behind him. After the Kentucky Derby, Perfect Drift finished 10th in the Belmont Stakes, won the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, and then finished last of 12 in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park in his final start of the year.
Success in the Woodford Reserve could give Reed and Johnson more options for Perfect Drift.
Kelly to work for Lukas
Larry Kelly has been hired as a Kentucky-based assistant by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. For most of his 25 years as a trainer, Kelly maintained his own public stable while also serving as an assistant to another Hall of Famer - his father, T.J. Kelly.
Kelly, who saddled his first winner at Hialeah in 1976, has worked with top horses such as Topsider, Plugged Nickle, Misty Gallore, and Crypto Star. He quit training in November 2000 to work as a jockey agent.
Kelly's older brother, Pat, is a New York-based trainer who conditioned such top horses as Solar Splendor, Sultry Song, and the currently active Evening Attire. Kelly replaces Mike Maker, a longtime Lukas assistant who announced last month that he is starting his own public stable.
Guaranteed pick fours
For the first time, Churchill is offering guaranteed pick four pools on Oaks and Derby days. Both pick fours are tied exclusively to stakes races.
The Friday guarantee is for $250,000 and comprises the Aegon Turf Sprint, Louisville Breeders' Cup, Crown Royal American Turf, and Kentucky Oaks (races 7 through 10).
The Saturday guarantee is for $750,000. The races are the Citgo Turf Mile, Humana Distaff, Woodford Reserve, and Kentucky Derby.
No ontrack simulcasts
Churchill attendees expecting to bet on simulcasts from other tracks Friday or Saturday, consider this fair warning - there will be no simulcasting at Churchill either day.
Simulcasts are available at the nearby Trackside facility, where a scaled-down simulcast menu will be offered both days. Although Churchill is dark Sunday, Trackside will be open that day with free admission.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marty McGee