07/07/2009 11:00PM

Two fillies have long haul getting to Azalea


MIAMI - There is no question trainer Michelle Lovell's 3-year-old fillies Going to the Sun and Time Well Spent belong in the starting gate for Saturday's Grade 3 Azalea Stakes. It's getting them there that has been the problem.

The Summit of Speed is one of the few events around the country for which track management not only contracts but defrays the costs of Tex Sutton flights to ship out-of-town runners in for the races. But how to ship her two fillies to south Florida from their home base at Louisiana Downs has been an issue Lovell and Calder management have struggled with for several days before entries closed for the Azalea on Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately for Lovell and her two fillies, location was the issue, with Louisiana Downs not even remotely near any of the scheduled stops on the routes the Tex Sutton flights take to Calder.

Lovell, whose Going to the Sun finished second in the final local prep for the Azalea, the Leave Me Alone Stakes, four weeks earlier, was frustrated when learning about her options for bringing the horses to Calder. Those options included either having them take a 12- to 14-hour van ride to Kentucky to catch a flight out of Louisville, make the approximately 18-hour van ride to Calder directly, or passing the Azalea all together.

"We've been planning on coming back for the Azalea ever since Going to the Sun finished second in the prep," said Lovell. "But we thought we'd be able to fly her back there like everybody else. If I knew she'd have to get there by van, I'd have just left her at Calder after the last race."

Lovell had discussions with officials from both Calder and Churchill Downs Inc. on the matter. She even volunteered to defray the majority of the costs of the Tex Sutton flight if one of the planes could be diverted to Dallas to pick up her fillies.

"Once he learned about the problem, Calder's general manager, John Marshall, became involved, and couldn't have been nicer," said Lovell. "He made every effort to try to accommodate us the best he could. He looked into several possibilities regarding the flights, but in the end I guess they were all too cost-prohibitive. I waited up until entries closed on Monday before ultimately deciding to put both girls on a van to Calder and run."

Going to the Sun and Time Well Spent left Louisiana on Tuesday evening, travelling at night when the weather was cooler and less humid. They stopped over in Ocala, Fla., on Wednesday morning to break up the trip before getting back on the van and completing their long journey that evening. Both fillies were scheduled to arrive at Calder early Thursday morning.

Marshall, who took over as vice president and general manager of racing at Calder earlier this year, said every effort was made to try to arrange a flight for Lovell's horses.

"Unfortunately our flights with Tex Sutton are contracted well in advance," said Marshall, "long before we even know the potential entries. We tried to find other options, including pricing the cost of diverting one of the flights through Dallas or even finding an air transport from Fed Ex, but those are few and far between. The only real regret I have is that I wasn't made aware of Michelle's situation before Saturday. As a result, there just wasn't enough time to get things done with entries closing for the race on Monday."

Marshall did say Calder would pick up the cost of the van ride for Lovell's fillies from Louisiana.

"We realize our horses aren't the kind who will make the day special but they do belong in the race and should help make the race more interesting by being there," said Lovell. "Unfortunately because they have to make the long van ride in this heat they'll probably be at a disadvantage. But we'll do our best, and hopefully one or both of them will be able to hit the board and become stakes-placed, which is one of our major goals."

Going to the Sun and Time Well Spent are two of four horses shipping in for the Azalea. Underground and Kays and Jays were also scheduled to arrive on Thursday aboard a Tex Sutton flight from California.

HRTV back for live coverage

For the second consecutive year, HRTV will be on-site at Calder for the Summit of Speed program. HRTV's team of Jon White and Scott Hazleton will report all the action live, beginning with the afternoon's first race at 12:40 p.m.