Two storm surges pushed through Ellis Park late Sunday afternoon: Trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Tyler Baze swept both 2-year-old stakes but in between a sudden burst of gale-force winds caused a 25-minute weather delay.
With steel-gray clouds lurking in the distance, L and N Racing's favored Rowdy Yates went wire to wire to capture the $100,000 TwinSpires Ellis Park Juvenile by 2 1 4/ lengths over Letmeno. In the next race, Clearsky Farms' Green Destiny shook off 60-1 shot Monedas de Oro for a four-length score in the $100,000 TwinSpires Ellis Park Debutante.
However, in between, strong winds abruptly swept through the area, delaying the Debutante 25 minutes. The horses were ready to load into the starting gate when the wind gusts descended on the track, with lightning in the distance. The field ultimately was unloaded and sent to the paddock, with the surge over as quickly as it materialized.
Baze and Asmussen teamed for three wins overall on the day to give the Hall of Fame trainer a meet-leading 18 victories. Baze, who has been riding the majority of Asmussen's horses, pulled into a tie with James Graham for second with 19 wins, one behind five-time meet titlist Corey Lanerie.
“It was a great day,” said Baze, in his first year riding full-time in Kentucky. “Steve has given me opportunities, we're trying to do the best we can. Winning three today for him was pretty big. We needed that. Just very fortunate to be in the position I'm in and enjoying it.”
It's been an eventful week for Baze, who a week earlier was banged up when his mount in the Groupie Doll Stakes stumbled at the start and hurled him to the ground. He then rode Thursday at Del Mar in California, Friday at Ellis and Saturday at Cleveland's Thistledown before finishing the weekend at Ellis.
“I've been doing a lot of traveling, a lot of riding and just enjoying my time right now,” Baze said. “Given the opportunities everybody has given me has just been wonderful. Ellis Park has been great to me, and I'm having a great time.”
Ellis Park's 2-year-old stakes might as well be called the L and N Racing Juvenile, because that Tulsa-based partnership now has won the Ellis Park Juvenile three times in the last four years with Rowdy Yates' 2 1/4-length triumph over Letmeno. In fact, 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee gave the owners their first stakes victory back in 2016, the first time Juvenile was held in eight years. They also won last year with Tobacco Road.
“He's a nice horse, a very good horse — right spot for him at the right time,” Asmussen said by phone. “I think L and N and the Ellis Park Juvenile have gotten along really well the last few years. That's a pretty good streak.”
Agreed Mitch Dennison, who runs Asmussen's Ellis Park division: “It's pretty cool to win that race three times, same owners. They're always very supportive of Steve, and we've won a lot of races with them. This horse, coming from Churchill Downs, shipped in nice, schooled good. Steve said keep him quiet, and obviously he showed what he is today.”
Rowdy Yates, named for Clint Eastwood's character in the 1960s television series Rawhide, won his debut May 31 at Churchill Downs by 4 3/4 lengths, also on the lead. Running back a month later in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor, he was head-and-head for the lead throughout most of the race before finishing second by three-quarters of a length behind California invader Phantom Boss.
“I know the horse from California who beat him last time is a really nice horse,” Baze said after riding Rowdy Yates for the first time. “So I knew what was under me today. It was fun to have the ride.”
In the TwinSpires Juvenile, Rowdy Yates set a sturdy pace while dogged early on by the well-regarded debut winner Night Time, shaking that rival off and taking command throughout the stretch to keep the late-running Letmeno at bay. Night Time came in another 2 1/4 lengths back in third, followed by Jersey Town Angel, Axiomo, Two Last Words and Alec and Arthur.
Calvin Borel, riding Letmeno, was pleased with his performance in the colt's second start.
“He broke a lot better, did everything good,” the Hall of Fame jockey told co-owner Randy Bloch. “If I can keep him finishing like this, we're going to have a lot of fun, I promise you. He's a smart little horse. The other horse just got away from me on the turn, opened up about two or three on me. It kind of cost us. But that's all right. We'll get 'em next time.”
The Dale Romans-trained Night Time had been a snappy front-running maiden winner in his first start while running greenly under Channing Hill.
“I liked him even better today than when he won,” Hill said of his third-place finish. “He took a nice step forward. He should be a nice little horse. Looks like he's got a lot of improvement left. Credit to the winner. He put up a real test and just kept going.”
Baze said he felt in control throughout. “I was actually worried about the 2 horse (Letmeno),” he said. “But he was running easy the whole way. I just shook him up a little bit at the top of the lane to keep his mind on business. He's a very nice colt.”
Rowdy Yates, a son of Morning Line, was timed touring seven-eighths of a mile in a strong 1:22.70, just off champion Boston Harbor's stakes-record of 1:22.60. Rowdy Yates paid $6.80 to win as the favorite.
It was a huge weekend for L and N, whose principals are Tulsa attorney Lee Levinson and his sons Mike and Andrew, along with their friend Don Nelson. They also won Woodbine's $400,000 Breeders' Stakes with Tone Broke a day earlier.
“I think he got significantly better from his last race,” Mike Levinson said of Rowdy Yates. “You look at the fractions and he went pretty fast, wire to wire. We're just really excited and happy to move forward with him. Jump one fence and you get another one for him.”
Asmussen said there are multiple options for Rowdy Yates' next start, including stakes at Remington Park for Oklahoma-bred horses. Mike Levinson indicated he'd be interested in seeing if Rowdy Yates could take the next step into graded-stakes company in Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
“He is a very nice 2-year-old with two wins and a second, stakes winner and graded-stakes placed,” said Asmussen, who tied D. Wayne Lukas and the late Bob Holthus for the most wins in the stakes at three. “So we're obviously very proud of who he is and think he has nice future.”
Green Destiny dueled with the Genaro Garcia-trained Indiana Grand shipper Monedas de Oro, who was ridden by Jose Riquelme, before pulling away for the four-length triumph. After finishing fifth in her first start at Churchill Downs, Green Destiny came back July 14 at Ellis Park to win by three-quarters of a length under Baze.
“She's maturing,” Baze said. “She relaxed really well today. When I called upon her she gave it to me. You always wonder, especially 2-year-olds, are going to handle that (the storm delay). But she was very professional. Didn't seem to bother her. I just go out and ride these horses with confidence and she showed up for me today.”
Dennison said Baze told him after her maiden win that “you could tell there was more there.
“When they show a lot of potential like that, you don't hesitate to put them in stakes,” he said. “Everything we've asked of her, she's continued to progress. She's got a good head on her. Physically, mentally, that's 90 percent of the challenge.”
The field was strung out at the finish, with His Glory another two lengths back in third, followed by Baileston Lassie, Secretly Wicked, Don't Mine Me, Spitefulness, Dixie Mo and the Asmussen-trained Milli Starr. Ellis Park allowance winner Lady Glamour, the 3-5 favorite, wound up eased, with Top Hat Charmer pulling up.
“I thought she handled the race really well,” Asmussen said of his winner. “She broke sharply. A long shot ran up inside her. She rated right off that horse and kicked clear into the stretch and looked good through the wire.”
As visually impressive as Green Destiny was, her final time for seven furlongs in a crawling 1:26.21 left Asmussen perplexed as how to evaluate her performance.
“Did the weather change the track that much?” he asked. “The X factor of the delay and the wind, how much did that adjust the time? It makes it very hard to evaluate the race going forward. I think we're very pleased that she's a stakes winner. We know she's a quality filly. I love how she stayed on going seven-eighths. But did the track change that much, or the conditions in which the race was run change that much?”
Ellis Park officials said they will double check the time to confirm accuracy.
Asmussen said Green Destiny most likely will go to Churchill Downs, where the Grade 2 Pocahontas will be a possibility if she trains well.
“I do have what I think are some very solid fillies who will be able to sort that out for themselves,” he said.
Speaking of the day overall, he said, “We've got a deep and talented group of 2-year-olds, and we expect success with them.”
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