Jack Sisterson, the former University of Louisville soccer player turned horseman, could have his biggest day as a trainer on Thursday's closing card of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs.
As private trainer for Calumet Farm, Sisterson is running Coachwhip in the $500,000 Ramsey Farm Stakes, followed by Lexitonian in the $500,000, Grade 3 Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes. The stable warms up with second-time starter Kierkegaard in the fourth race for 2-year-old maidens. Calumet Farm long has been a supporter of America's most unique race meet, with owner Brad Kelley the one-time owner of Kentucky Downs and with the farm sponsoring the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, which last Saturday was won by Calumet Farm-bred Zulu Alpha.
Both Coachwhip (15-1) and Lexitonian (20-1) are prices in Byron King's morning line — which you could say puts them right in the sweet spot for Sisterson, especially with Lexitonian.
Sisterson was hired by Brad Kelley's Calumet Farm 14 months ago, earning his first win on Aug. 12, 2018, with Next Dance at Belterra Park in a maiden race carrying a $16,000 pot.
Since then his horses have won 19 races and almost $1.2 million. That includes Grade 3 stakes with Oxy Lady (Aqueduct's Tempted at 36-1 odds), Coach Whip (Arlington Matron as the favorite), Bandua (Arlington Handicap as the favorite) and Lexitonian (Pimlico's Chick Lang Stakes at 17-1). Bandua most recently was third in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at 17-1 odds and will run next in Keeneland's Grade 1, $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile.
Last Saturday, Sisterson won the $75,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity with 17-1 shot Flap Jack.
Kentucky Downs will be Lexitonian's eighth track in nine career starts, as well as his first start on turf. After racing exclusively on dirt, Lexitonian was third over Arlington's synthetic surface in the Bruce D. Memorial in his last race.
“He's a little trouper. He's doing as good as he was in his winning races in Maryland,” Sisterson said, adding cheerfully, “I love the fact that he's 20-1, because at Pimlico when he won he was a long shot and at Laurel when he won (the $75,000 Concern Stakes July 14) he was a long shot. I think if they made us 20-1, it means we have a chance. If he was 3-1, we'd have no chance.
“We breezed him just an easy three-eighths on the grass Sunday at Keeneland with Tyler (Baze) on him. He traveled great over the turf course, and Tyler felt he handled it very well. He's fresh and showing in training signs that he's ready to run another good race tomorrow.”
Sisterson blames himself for Lexitonian's defeat in the mile Bruce D. at Arlington.
“I thought he'd be on the lead and keep going and win that race,” he said. “So I told Adam (Beschizza), 'He's coming out of sprint distances, going a mile he's going to jump and be forwardly placed on the lead. Just keep going, sort of go wire to wire.' If you look at his best races, he's been in a dog battle right to the wire. Adam mentioned turning for home that the horse pricked his ears and sort of thought the job was done. He waited on horses and from the sixteenth pole toward the wire, he was sort of pulling himself up; we really couldn't engage with the two outside horses at Arlington.
“So we're going to ride him how Jose Ortiz rode him at Pimlico. It wouldn't surprise me if he broke on top, but Tyler will be getting him to relax behind the pace. He'll definitely have a target to run at. Coming toward the eighth pole, we'll be keeping the target close to us and keeping him in a battle. Because he's a little fighter, the horse. The more fight he gets in him, the more fight he shows and will to win.”
Sisterson loves that Lexitonian cuts back from the mile to 6 1/2 furlongs.
“He's got a great foundation in him, so fitness won't be an issue,” he said. “Especially at Kentucky Downs, where there's a slight incline (to the finish). I'm sure it runs more like a seven-eighths to a mile race because of the configuration of the track.”
The Jorge Navarro-trained Archidust, the Franklin-Simpson's 2-1 favorite, ships in from New Jersey off three straight wins, the last two in his first races on turf. Other stakes winners in the field are Moon Colony, Nitrous, Pole Setter, The Black Album and Stubbins. An intriguing horse at 8-1 in the line is The Last Zip, shortening in distance after finishing second and third in graded stakes. Second-choice Casa Creed was scratched.
Coachwhip was scratched out of the Grade 3, $500,000 Three Chimneys Ladies Turf this past Saturday at a mile in favor of the Ramsey Farm's added distance at 1 5/16 miles.
“She's doing well, coming off a layoff,” Sisterson said. “She's a filly who seems to run better with a little bit longer spacing between races. She's eager and ready to run Thursday. If she can handle the track down there, she should perform pretty well.”
The Ramsey Farm's 5-2 favorite is distance-loving Gentle Ruler, whose four-race win streak ended in her last start with a very good fourth in Saratoga's Grade 3 Waya Stakes. Gentle Ruler's victories include Churchill Downs' Keertana Stakes and Delaware's Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial.
The 3-1 second choice is Juddmonte Farms' Gaining, a Group 3 winner in France who has two seconds and a third in three U.S. starts for trainer Brad Cox.
“I've noticed from our dislike that there are a few fillies who have already beaten us,” Sisterson quipped, referencing Gentle Ruler and Gaining. “So tell those guys to take it easy on us. From a handicapping standpoint, it looks like there are a couple of fillies in there who show a bit of speed. I think our filly will be forwardly placed. I think if she bounces out of the gate and goes forward, because she is fresh at the moment, it wouldn't surprise me to see her and Tyler on the lead.”
Sisterson came to America from his native England to play soccer for the Cardinals, which also let him engage in his love of horse racing with a degree from the U of L College of Business' Equine Industry Program. A knee injury as a senior ended Sisterson's soccer career, but he transitioned seamlessly to the racetrack. He worked his way up from hotwalker to assistant to prominent California trainer Doug O'Neill, for whom he was involved with Kentucky Derby winners I'll Have Another and Nyquist.
Now he's gotten off to a strong start with his training career and Calumet Farm.
“It's been very humbling,” Sisterson said. “First and foremost, I have to thank Calumet for the position I'm in. I thank the team that I have at the barn at Keeneland. We come up with a vision for each horse and a vision for the barn. Calumet provides that vision and the barn executes that. So I can't take any credit. It's the guys who do all the hard work, and Calumet provides that. But the horses seem happy and are doing well. We're going to stay humble and enjoy the wins as they come and move forward, fingers crossed, as a team for many years to come.”
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