Jazzy Times is the kind of break-through horse that Ty Kennedy has worked for throughout his young riding career. The gelding, claimed for $25,000 four races earlier` by owner-trainer Wes Hawley, gave Kennedy his biggest victory to date in capturing Ellis Park's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint.
Now the 24-year-old jockey is hoping that Jazzy Times tops that in the $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint on Sept. 8 at Kentucky Downs.
“We're looking forward to the next race with him,” Kennedy said recently after working Jazzy Times at Churchill Downs. “He's going to have to step up again. But he's done it both times on the turf so far, so who knows how high the horse will take us?”
The first time Hawley ran Jazzy Times, the gelding was fourth in a $32,000 claiming race on dirt. He shipped to Indiana Grand to try the grass, with Kennedy aboard for the first time. Jazzy Times won that $25,000 claiming race by a head, then in the next start won his first stakes in the Ellis race, beating Extravagant Kid and Maniacal by a half-length.
“Wes said he had a feeling he'd be a grass horse, and that's what we were taking a shot with,” Kennedy said. “And Wes Hawley was right.”
What Hawley also told people going into that turf debut is that he thought Jazzy Times might wind up being another Chamberlain Bridge. That's the horse Bret Calhoun claimed for $35,000 in 2008 that went on to win the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in 2010, also at Churchill Downs.
“Before he ran this horse up at Indiana, that's the horse he referenced, Chamberlain Bridge,” Kennedy said. “He said that he's got one just like it, if not better. I said, 'Let's go find out.' Wes took us up there and man, just phenomenal on the grass, he was. Then he stepped up at Ellis and he's going to have to step up again. But we all think he can or we wouldn't be trying it. Wes has 100-percent confidence in this horse, and that's good enough for me. I believe in him 100-percent as well.”
Hawley figured Jazzy Times had back class, given that he was third in a Grade 1 sprint at Santa Anita two years ago, when trained by Bob Baffert.
“So he's proven,” Kennedy said. “We just think he's a little bit better on turf, and that's what he's showing us right now.
“I told Wes that the first time I got on him, he kind of feels like a quarter horse, because he's got a stout neck to him. He's strong within himself, makes you work a little bit. But he's just a classy horse. He knows his job and he knows how to do it well. He really enjoys his training. Wes and his crew have done a terrific job with him.”
Kennedy said it would be huge for his career if Jazzy Times could win the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. In his only other stakes in limited opportunities besides at Ellis, the jockey won a $100,000 race for Iowa-breds in 2016 at Prairie Meadows.
“The dream is everybody wants to find that horse,” Kennedy said. “A lot of people here have had the horse and then some. This will kind of be my first big horse to take us to that level. It's something we're definitely prepared for, yet excited for at the same time. Because we think this horse can really take us to the first weekend in November right here at home at Churchill. That's our goal, and that's what we're pointing for, and we're looking for a heck of a ride.”
Kennedy gives his agent, Rocco O'Connor (also known as Li'l Rocco in his role as Ellis Park paddock analyst), credit for getting the mount on Jazzy Times. O'Connor, also 24, was briefly an assistant trainer to Hawley and the men remain good friends.
“It would be unbelievable, especially for me and my career,” O'Connor said, adding of the Ellis stakes, “It meant a lot to win for Wes when we won here at Ellis, and especially for Ty. Ty is an extremely hard working young man. You never have to ask him twice to do anything. He's willing to do anything. He's a very capable riding.
“He's just moving his tack over to the Kentucky circuit, which is hard to do for a young rider. It would really help his career to get this horse to the winner's circle at Kentucky Downs and, as Wes said, ultimately the goal is the Breeders' Cup. If we could ride this train all the way there, it would be an unbelievable experience.”
At O'Connor's encouragement, Kennedy left Prairie Meadows early to get to Kentucky, whereas the past couple of years the jockey didn't make the move until after the Iowa track closed, getting a late start at the Ellis meet. O'Connor had represented Kennedy for a short period of time in December at Turfway Park before the agent left for Oaklawn Park.
“He said, 'You know, I've got faith in you,'” O'Connor said. “And it's worked out well. We picked up some really nice Indiana business. People don't notice his wins over in Indiana. It's been a really nice transition, and I think it only will grow. We're going to go to the Fair Grounds this winter and keep working to build up business for Kentucky. That's going to be the goal, to keep his tack here.”
A lot of trainers would switch to a more experienced rider when shooting for a $500,000 race. But
“Wes is a really nice guy,” O'Connor said. “My back relationship with Wes I think has a lot to do with that. And Wes is a small-time guy, too. You find those small-time guys always want to help some other small-time guys out. So we thank Wes for that. It's really nice of him to keep us on this horse.”
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