North America's reigning Champion Male Sprinter Runhappy landed post position No. 5 for his much-anticipated 4-year-old debut in Saturday's 24th running of the $100,000 Ack Ack Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade III) over one mile at Churchill Downs.
The Ack Ack, for 3-year-olds and up, is the centerpiece of a stakes tripleheader at Churchill Downs that also includes the $175,000 Lukas Classic, which lured the last two winners of the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap, and 3-year-olds on turf in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup.
Churchill Downs admission gates open Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) and the first of 11 races is 12:45 p.m.
The appropriately-named Runhappy will only have five challengers in the Ack Ack, but it's a contentious cast.
The complete Ack Ack field from the rail out (with jockeys and weights): Iron Fist (Robby Albarado, 121 pounds), The Truth or Else (Ricardo Santana Jr., 121), Tom's Ready (Brian Hernandez Jr., 118), Mr. Z (Calvin Borel, 121), Runhappy (Edgar Prado, 121) and Schivarelli (Corey Lanerie, 121).
Runhappy, a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, has amassed $1,481,300 from seven wins in eight career starts that included a championship-worthy sprint campaign a year ago. The second half of his season showcased swift triumphs in Saratoga's $500,000 King's Bishop (GI), Keeneland's $250,000 Phoenix (GIII), the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (GI) at Keeneland and Santa Anita's $300,000 Malibu (GI) on Dec. 26 – his last start.
Rather than target sprints as he's done in all but one of his starts, owner Jim McIngvale and trainer Laura Wohlers are eager to test Runhappy over longer distances with immediate goals including the $1 million Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 and possibly the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (GI) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.
Two of the last three Ack Ack winners – Pants On Fire (2013) and Tapiture (2015) – used the race as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Runhappy, who was sidelined by a front right cannon bone bruise earlier this year, has prepped for his return to action with a series of five published workouts, including a six-furlong move at Churchill Downs on Sept. 15 in 1:14.40 under regular rider Edgar Prado.
“The main thing was to get him to finish strong,” Prado said of the Sept. 15 workout. “He's going a mile for the first time and we know that he's fast and we want to use what's there. We were trying to get him to relax and slowly pick them up. The gallop out was real good.”
Runhappy's final breeze for the race – a half-mile in :46 – came Sunday at Keeneland.
“We let him grow up a little bit, and he's bigger and stronger this year,” Wohlers said.
Calumet Farm's Mr. Z (20-2-5-4—$1,160,378) also returns to action in the Ack Ack following an extended break and figures to be forwardly-placed for his first race since finishing last of eight in the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) last November. Last year's Ohio Derby winner and Indiana Derby (GII) runner-up will race Saturday without blinkers – equipment that Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas had used in Mr. Z's last nine starts.
The field also features Gayle and Tom Benson's 3-year-old Tom's Ready (12-2-4-0—$578,887), 1 ¼-length winner of Saratoga's $500,000 Woody Stephens (GII); Stonestreet Stables LLC and Regis Racing's Iron Fist (11-3-3-2—$416,065), two-length runner-up to Frosted in last year's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (GII); Pike Placing Racing and Homewrecker Racing LLC's Schivarelli (15-4-3-3—$285,170), the runner-up to crack sprinter Alsvid in this summer's $64,465 Kelly's Landing at Churchill Downs who followed that effort with a two-length romp over seven furlongs in a Saratoga allowance/optional claiming race; and Harold Lerner LLC and Magdalena Racing's The Truth or Else (23-4-3-5—$453,166), who recently finished sixth in Saratoga's $700,000 Forego (GI) on Aug. 27.
The Ack Ack, which goes as Race 9 at 4:49 p.m., honors the 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who won the 1969 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.
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