09/14/2015 10:31AM

Sky Flight heads wide-open Old Friends Stakes

Lauren King/Coglianese Photos
Tropical Park Derby winner Sky Flight will start on Wednesday in the inaugural $150,000 Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs.

Seldom do racetracks overtly recognize the remarkable Thoroughbred aftercare programs that have sprung up in America in recent years, but Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen thought it was time something was done about that.

The result is the inaugural running of the $150,000 Old Friends Stakes on Wednesday, the first Old Friends Day at Kentucky Downs in south-central Kentucky.

“These aftercare programs are invaluable with the wonderful service they provide to our industry, particularly Old Friends,” said Johnsen. “We’ve wanted to give back to them for a long time, so here we are.”

The Old Friends charter farm near Georgetown, Ky., was founded in 2003 and has steadily expanded in scope, with Kentucky Downs being the latest to host retired racehorses on its property.

Old Friends is run by Michael Blowen, an Eclipse Award honoree who not only has a soft spot in his heart for horses but a penchant for playing the races. Wearing his handicapper’s hat Wednesday, he should have a great time with the Old Friends Stakes, which drew an oversubscribed field and is limited to horses who haven’t won a stakes in 2015.


First post Wednesday is 12:05 p.m. Central, with the Old Friends, which goes at a mile and 70 yards, slotted as race 11. Sky Flight, trained by Mark Casse, is a lukewarm morning-line favorite in a lineup that also has Mister Marti Gras, Fredericksburg, Thatcher Street, and Margano as logical contenders.

Wednesday marks the first of two 13-race cards to end the five-day Kentucky Downs meet; closing day is Saturday. Ten races are the normal template, but three races were added to each card in making up for canceled races last Thursday.

The Wednesday undercard includes five allowances and five maiden special weight races, all with purses of at least $120,000, including bonuses from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.

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Sky Flight (Last 3 Beyers: 90-90-86)

◗ The perpetually hot Casse barn already has won five stakes since Aug. 30, and this 4-year-old colt comes well spotted and well drawn with Julien Leparoux riding from post 1 when turning back from the 1 1/4-mile Sky Classic at Woodbine.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 Sky Flight. Trainer Mark Casse is 40-3-10-6 with a $0.99 ROI over the past five years in turf routes with Julien Leparoux aboard (35-0-8-6 with horses not named Tepin). Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Mister Marti Gras (Last 3 Beyers: 91-91-84)

◗ This 8-year-old gelding with a gaudy bankroll of more than $1.16 million enters in decent recent form for two-time (2012, 2014) Kentucky Cup Turf-winning trainer Chris Block; he’ll be ridden by Florent Geroux, arguably the hottest jockey in the Midwest in recent weeks.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 8 Mister Marti Gras. Trainer Chris Block is 55-13-11-6 with a $3.02 ROI over the past two years going synthetic to turf in routes. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

Fredericksburg (Last 3 Beyers: 86-88-92)

◗ This 5-year-old gelding with tactical ability is still eligible for a third-level allowance but has been competitive in a number of stakes events while shipping out of Fair Hill in Maryland for Michael Matz.

Thatcher Street (Last 3 Beyers: 90-86-84)

◗ It took him 13 times to finally knock out his maiden condition, but now that he has learned his lessons, this 4-year-old homebred has become a solid performer for Randy Bloch and partners.