09/05/2008 12:00AM

Second jockey school graduate wins


The Chris McCarron influence is starting to take hold at American racetracks. A second graduate of the North American Racing Academy won a parimutuel race when Michael James captured the first race Thursday night at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

McCarron, the retired Hall of Fame jockey who founded and oversees NARA in Lexington, Ky., was on hand when James, 22, guided Lady Phoenix to a neck victory in just his third career mount.

"I'm very proud of him, very excited to see the hard work we've put into the school coming to fruition," McCarron said.

James, a native of Glendora, Calif., was in the first graduating class at NARA, a two-year school that opened in 2006. Thus far, three other graduates have competed in sanctioned races, with Matthew Straight having enjoyed the most success with nine winners through Thursday. Jessica Stith and Jackie Davis also have had a limited number of mounts.

NARA receives state funding as part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. The first graduating class had eight students. Six students currently are enrolled in their second year in the school, and a remarkable 25 students are enrolled in their first year.

Steeplechase racing at Ky. Downs

The revival of steeplechase racing is another new wrinkle set for opening day at Kentucky Downs, the turf-only track that kicks off its annual six-day meet next Saturday, Sept. 13, in Franklin, Ky.

The $50,000 Belle Meade Plantation Stakes will be one of two steeplechases among the seven races run on the Kentucky Downs opener. Steeplechasing has been held on an irregular basis at Kentucky Downs since the Dueling Grounds International steeplechase made national headlines with a $750,000 purse in 1990.

Kentucky Downs will be using the three-race Kentucky Cup turf series on opening day for the first time. A leased Jumbotron stationed in the infield will give fans easier viewing during the first two days of the meet, which runs through Sept. 23. The Kentucky Downs races will be melded into a marathon simulcast card with racing from Turfway.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Downs also announced this week that it will follow Keeneland and Turfway in invoking the same restrictive policy on horse shoes. Toe grabs, caulks, stickers, and certain other types of shoes will not be permitted for racing purposes.

No arrests in attempted robbery

As of Friday, there still had been no arrests in the bizarre robbery attempt that occurred in the second-floor Sky Theatre at Ellis Park shortly after the final race was run Monday at the Henderson, Ky., track.

Ellis spokesman Mark Geary said he believed local law-enforcement officials are "on the trail of somebody" and that "we're hoping someone will be arrested before long."

At least three men wearing bandanas, including one with a handgun, demanded and received money from mutuels clerks positioned on the north end of the Sky Theatre, but the men eventually threw down the money bags when fleeing after security was called and chaos erupted. There were no serious injuries.

Fitzaslew overheated in Cradle

Fitzaslew, the beaten favorite in the Cradle Stakes last weekend at River Downs when making just his second career start, "got overheated and came out of the race with a little physical problem," trainer Ken McPeek said. "We were asking him to do a lot."

Grand Traverse enjoys perfect meet

No horse had a better Ellis meet than Grand Traverse, a resurgent 5-year-old gelding who ended the Churchill Downs spring meet by winning a nonwinners-of-two-lifetime race for a $10,000 claiming tag. At Ellis, Grand Traverse went 3 for 3, winning another conditioned claimer, a first-level allowance, and finally an overnight handicap named in honor of the late race-caller Luke Kruytbosch on Monday, closing day.

Grand Traverse, trained by Tim Glyshaw, earned a career-high 96 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kruytbosch.

"We're absolutely ecstatic with the progress he's made," said Loren Hebel-Osborne, a principal in the Mimicry Partnership that owns Grand Traverse.

* Back-to-back allowance sprints anchor a 10-race Sunday card at Turfway. The $26,000 ninth race matches 10 fillies and mares, while the $24,000 eighth race drew eight 2-year-old fillies.

* A golf scramble in honor of Kruytbosch is scheduled for Oct. 13 at Iroquois golf course in Louisville. Entry fee is $50, with proceeds going to the Kentucky Equine Humane Center. For more information, or for hole sponsorship, call Fred Struss at (502) 216-8605.