Abel Tasman/Vale Dori – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff runners went to the track at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning for routine gallops.
Abel Tasman, who won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill with a last-to-first rally in the mud, covered one mile under Dana Barnes. Second in last year's Distaff, Abel Tasman shipped from California to Kentucky Tuesday. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and Abel Tasman will start from post two in the Distaff.
Vale Dori covered 1 ¼ miles for rider Jose Contreras.
In his first mount on the 6-year-old mare, Joe Talamo rode Vale Dori to a surprise victory in the Zenyatta – she was 11-1 – Sept. 30 at Santa Anita, snapping a six-race losing streak. Talamo, 28, returns for his third career start in the Distaff. They will start from post eight.
Vale Dori is an Argentinian-bred and started her career there in 2015. She made two starts in Dubai in 2016 before being sent to Baffert.
The front-running daughter of Asiatic Boy won seven of eight starts – including six in a row – during a stretch for Baffert in 2016-2017, but then could not find her way to the winner's circle. She has won 10 of 21 starts and his hit the board 18 times in her four-year career, but can be her own worst enemy.
“Vale Dori is very tempermental,” Baffert said. “We can take her to the gate in the morning and she's perfect. On race day she dances in there and rocks back and forth, gets left and when she gets behind horses she just doesn't run. The break is the whole key.
“This is a tough group, but she's got a lot of class and she likes to win. She's won a lot of races.”
Blue Prize – Blue Prize galloped 1 3/8m at Keeneland before dawn this morning, and already has shipped and settled in at Churchill Downs.
“Everything went right,” said trainer Ignacio Correas IV. “She's here at Churchill already in her stall. So everything is good.”
The 5-year-old Pure Prize mare brings a three-race win streak into the Distaff, including a pair of “Win and You're In” victories – the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill June 16 and the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 7.
The Spinster was the first Grade 1 win in the United States for both Blue Prize and for her Argentine-born trainer. Blue Prize won a Group 1 in October 2016 in her home country and was named champion filly before shipping to the states.
Her trip in Juddmonte Spinster was an exciting one. With Joe Bravo aboard, she took the lead off the turn and was drawing away in the 1 1/8-mile test, when she suddenly veered right toward the center of the track. Bravo switched his stick from the left to the right, and she was able to get herself back together to hold off Champagne Problems, who was closing up the rail. Blue Prize's win margin was three-quarters of a length.
“I hope that doesn't happen again,” Correas said. “She doesn't show in the mornings that she's going to do something like that.
“It's like she got bored or something,” he said. “But no, she'd never done anything like that. Maybe she spooked at something.”
Correas said he was thrilled to win the Spinster. “It's very special to win one of the biggest races for fillies in the country, especially at Keeneland.”
Blue Prize, who is owned by Merriebelle Stable LLC, has failed to hit the board only once in her 16 lifetime starts. She's won and run second seven times each, and third once. Her career earnings stand at $964,753 heading into the Distaff.
She will be the second Breeders' Cup starter for Correas. He sent out Humble and Hungry in the 2010 Juvenile Turf, who finished eighth. The experience coming in with Blue Prize is another story.
“Different approach and different situation,” he said. “One was taking a shot at a race with a horse I thought was a good horse, and he proved it through his career. He won the Commonwealth the next year, and was second and third in multiple stakes.
“He had proved to me he was a good horse and that's why we put him there. He got beat less than four lengths or something like that. He ran a good race and he was 28 to 1.
“(Blue Prize) is 6-1 (on the morning line), he said. “It's different. With this filly, we have different expectations.”
Champagne Problems – Six Column Stables, Randy Bloch, John Seller, Fred Merritt and David Hall's Champagne Problems galloped on the main track under exercise rider Kara Lee for trainer Ian Wilkes.
Champagne Problems had been training at the Skylight Training Center in Goshen, Kentucky, and Wednesday was her first day back at Churchill Downs where she has compiled a 9-1-4-2 record.
Eight of those races have been with Calvin Borel in the saddle and the Hall of Famer will be aboard again Saturday for the Longines Distaff.
“She is doing good right now and her last three or four races have been huge,” Borel said. “You can't fault the owners and Ian for taking a shot. She is peaking now and the best thing to do when that happens is run them.”
Champagne Problems, who has been second to Distaff rival Blue Prize in her past two starts, drew post position one for Saturday's race.
“The post is perfect,” Borel said with a grin. “And if it rains, even better.”
La Force – Patrick “Paddy” Gallagher took his first turn training La Force Wednesday morning after flying in from his Southern California base Tuesday. He sent the 4-year-old filly 1 1/2 miles over the Churchill Downs main track as she moved a day closer to Saturday's date with 10 other females for the Distaff.
Exercise rider Helen Isler handled the gallop as she has in the other exercise work. Gallagher was handed the baton from his wife, Sabine, who headed back to California early Wednesday after training La Force earlier in the week.
“The filly looks good and seems to have taken well to things here, including the cooler weather,” Gallagher said.
Midnight Bisou – Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables and Allen Racing's multiple Grade 1 winner Midnight Bisou galloped 9f Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs with trainer Steve Asmussen watching the Distaff runner on horseback. She will be making her fifth start for the six-time Breeders' Cup-winning conditioner after making her first six starts with California-based Bill Spawr, including a troubled third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks over the Distaff's course and distance.
“She has accepted what we've tried to do with her and it really couldn't have been any smoother,” Asmussen said. “We were able to witness her for a couple weeks, 10 days or so, before the (Kentucky) Oaks with Bill Spawr and we continued that program and I thought it went pretty seamlessly.
“A tremendous amount is on the line in the Distaff and she's still in the mix.”
Monomoy Girl – The Kentucky Oaks winner and morning-line Distaff favorite Monomoy Girl galloped once around the Churchill oval with exercise rider Mario Garcia aboard. With the threat of rain later in the morning, trainer Brad Cox sent the filly to the track with his third set, ahead of the 7:30 time allotted for Breeders' Cup.
“She was very aggressive,” Cox said. “She was moving great. She's been that way for a while now. She couldn't be doing any better.”
Cox enters Wednesday with 990 career victories and now has the 1,000-win milestone in his crosshair. It could be a huge week for Cox, who has 16 horses entered over the next five days, including four in Breeders' Cup races. In addition to Monomoy Girl, he'll saddle Arklow in the Longines Turf, Will Call in the Turf Sprint and Golden Mischief in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
“It's been a good run,” Cox said. “Very proud of the team we have. That's what it's all about – get a good team in place. That's what we have.”
Mopotism – The 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo owned by Reddam Racing had trainer Doug O'Neill all smiles Wednesday morning after her 1 1/2-mile gallop under regular exercise rider Amir Cedeno.
“She went excellent,” said the ever-upbeat O'Neill. “She's coming to the race in great shape.”
Verve's Tale – Charles Fipke's homebred 5-year-old mare galloped 1 1/2 miles under Heather Smullen Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for an attempt to win the first Grade I win of her career in Saturday's Distaff.
“We're trying. We'd love to get a Grade I win with her, or at least get her Grade I stakes-placed a couple times to build up her pedigree,” said trainer Barclay Tagg, who trained her sire, Tale of Ekati.
Verve's Tale's lone graded-stakes win came in the 2016 Comely at Aqueduct but she has been ultra- consistent throughout her career, placing first, second or third, in 17 of 22 starts. She attained her first Grade 1 stakes placing in her most recent start, a third-place finish behind Wow Cat in the Beldame at Belmont.
Tagg is prepared to alter Thursday morning's training schedule, should forecasted heavy rain develop.
“She might just jog. They are both dead fit,” said Tagg, who is also scheduled to saddle Cassies Dreamer for a start in Friday's Juvenile Fillies. 'Yesterday was their first full day here and we galloped them. We galloped them again today. We probably would have just jogged them yesterday, but with all this rain being called, we wanted to get a couple of good gallops into them.”
Wonder Gadot – Trainer Mark Casse reports that Gary Barber's 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is in the best condition of her career. She has been so energetic that he made a slight modification to her training schedule Wednesday.
Instead of going during the 7:30 time slot reserved for Breeders' Cup entrants, Wonder Gadot was on the track a little after 5 a.m. when the scene is more serene. The previous day she put a series of joyful leaps into her gallop with regular exercise rider Chris Garraway aboard.
“Her flying through the air might have been fun for everyone to watch but not for me,” Casse said. “She behaved a little better today.”
Casse continues to be amazed at her exuberance that has produced a $1,492,461 bankroll with a 5-4-4 record in 15 starts.
“She has more energy now that I have ever seen,” he said. “She is going to jog on Thursday. She puts so much into her gallops that she does her leaping. Her rider told me that she loves Churchill Downs like nowhere else.”
Wow Cat – Chilean superstar mare Wow Cat once again gave a good account of herself with 1m gallop Wednesday morning for trainer Chad Brown at just past 8 o'clock. The daughter of 2009 Juvenile runner-up Lookin At Lucky seeks to become the first Beldame winner to take the Distaff in the same season since Royal Delta in 2012. Last year's Distaff winner Forever Unbridled won the previous year's Beldame.
The five-time G1 winner is owned by Peter M. Brant and Stud Vendaval. Brant, who has had a revival in the game over the last couple years, has had 14 Breeders' Cup starters, dating all the way back to the 1984 inaugural edition when his Track Barron was fourth in the Classic. His lone victory came with Gulch in the 1988 Sprint.
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