Ian Wilkes probably can't catch Mike Maker for the Kentucky Downs training title. But he can certainly end America's most unique race meet in style.
Wilkes runs five horses on Thursday's closing card, including the intriguing 3-1 favorite Sonic Boom in the $250,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-olds and Sweet Tapper in the $350,000 Ramsey Farm for fillies and mares at 1 5/16 miles.
The barn has won three races this meet, with a second and third, spread over the first four days. But while mathematically still in the hunt for leading trainer, Wilkes will have to have an epic day to catch Maker, who has six wins.
Maker, the two-time defending training champion, has 10 horses running in six races Thursday. That includes strong favorite Kitten's Roar and tepid second choice Daring Duchess in the Ramsey Farm and Benefactor and Kitten's Cat in the Franklin-Simpson. If he sweeps both stakes Thursday, Maker will match last year's haul of five stakes victories, having already has won the $600,000, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (Oscar Nominated); $350,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (Hogy); and Old Friends Stakes (Sir Dudley Digges).
But Wilkes isn't complaining. Heck, his horses have earned $354,453. His victories were all in allowances races, two worth $145,000 and one $140,000. He narrowly lost the Old Friends with Thatcher Street second.
“Anytime you win down there, it's good,” Wilkes said. “The money is tremendous. The owners are so excited because you don't get a chance to run for that kind of money too often. And Churchill and Keeneland are slowly catching up; they've raised the purses for the fall. I think Kentucky is just going to get stronger and stronger.”
Sonic Boom won Tampa's Columbia Stakes and after racing in Keeneland's Grade 3 Transylvania, ripped through a second-level Churchill Downs allowance and Arlington's Grade 3 American Derby. He set the pace before weakening to fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat at 1 1/4 miles, sparking Wilkes to turn the son of More Than Ready back in distance to the Franklin-Simpson's seven-eighths of a mile.
“I think the mile and a quarter was just a little too far for him,” Wilkes said from Keeneland's yearling sale. “I think he's going to be a really good miler next year. He's going to be a nice horse.”
Winchester Place Thoroughbreds' Sweet Tapper is a daughter of super-sire Tapit and out the Grade 1-winning mare Sweet Talker. Sweet Tapper was third last fall in a very tough running of Churchill's Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at 89-1 odds. She captured the $100,000 Lady Canterbury in Minnesota, then was third as the odds-on favorite in a mile allowance race in her last start, two months ago.
“She's a well-bred filly,” Wilkes said. “She won the Lady Canterbury and I left her up there. They ran her in an allowance and she just got beat. She was supposed to run in a little stakes, but it came off the turf. They sent her back to me and I said, ‘I'd like to try her going long now.' Because the filly has some talent, and she's learned to relax. She might just stretch out really well.”
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