Saturday's closing-day stakes at Churchill Downs could be preps for Ellis Park's 2-year-old stakes in August.
When one of the Hancock brothers, trainers John and Jack, has a young horse running in June, you know Ellis Park is likely in the plans as a subsequent start. The Hancocks are third-generation horsemen who make their family's generations-long hometown of Henderson their primary base.
Jack Hancock has the 2-year-old filly Secretly Wicked in Churchill Downs' $125,000 Debutante at six furlongs with post time 4:26 p.m. Central. The next race, John Hancock has the 2-year-old colt Alec and Arthur in the $125,000, Grade 3 Bashford Manor, also at three-quarters of a mile.
The horses ran against each other in their prior start, a five-furlong allowance race won by Alec and Arthur by 3 1/4 lengths. Secretly Wicked finished fourth while tackling the boys in that race, but was only two lengths behind runner-up Megan Marie and a half-length behind Street Flyer. Both those fillies join Secretly Wicked in the Debutante.
Owned by Hat Creek Racing, Alec and Arthur won his debut at Keeneland in April and then finished a close third in the $125,000 Kentucky Juvenile during Derby Week before capturing the allowance race.
“I've looked at the past performances, and I don't see anything I'm afraid of,” John Hancock said of the Bashford Manor. “We're going to run there and then his next start won't be until the Ellis Park Juvenile. Then he'll have one more start in the stakes at Kentucky Downs, if everything goes right. Of course those are long-range and very wishful-thinking places, but that's our plan.
“He won his first start by coming from off of it. Then he was in the stakes and got rushed to the front in quick opening quarters. He really wasn't comfortable. We ran him back, and he was in the front but well in hand because Tyler (Gaffalione) knew him really well. Tyler had worked him at Churchill. He really finished well the last time he ran. We elected not to go to New York (for a stakes) but to stay here in Kentucky and catch an allowance race for him. He came out of it really well and worked really good the other day. I've got high hopes for him. I've had high hopes for him since the first time we breezed him.”
Alec and Arthur, a $22,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, is named for legendary French horseman Alec Head and Stone Farm owner Arthur Hancock.
Jack Hancock purchased Secretly Wicked privately for $1,300 after she failed to sell at auction. She proved a fantastic purchase by winning her first start at Keeneland.
“The stakes race, she just had the worst part of it,” Jack Hancock said of the Kentucky Juvenile. “She was like seven-wide down the backside and six-wide around the turn, just couldn't save any ground. But she only got beat four lengths; she ran a really good race. The last race was not all her fault. It was partly mine. There was no other 2-year-old races. Usually they don't hang any races up like that (an allowance race that wasn't offered in the condition book listing races for which entries will be taken). They put that race up (as an “extra”) and I got only one decent work before I ran her in there.
“But this time, she should be a little better, a little sharper than she was last time. Last race she had the worst of it again. She just went wide again. To do what she did against the boys, she was head and head with them down the backside and we just ran out of horse. Again, that was my fault not hers. I'd just put her on coast and just done maintenance training because there was no place to run her.”
Chantal Sutherland will ride Secretly Wicked for the first time.
“I'd watched her ride some in California. I mean, she's really good,” Jack Hancock said of the only female jockey to win the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup. “I watched her ride a horse of John's after she came to Kentucky. The horse broke bad, and she just sat back there with patience and just waited and waited. When she came, she came. A lot of riders don't do that. When they break bad, they want to shoot them up in there and then you've lost part of your horse before you get up in there. I thought, 'She might help me out. If we get a decent break, she can get her back there and just sit and wait on them.”
Asked about a Hancock brothers stakes double, Jack said with a laugh, “I don't know about that. We thought we were going to have the exacta the other day. When he won I thought I could be second.”
Jack Hancock said if Secretly Wicked “runs decent with this bunch here, and I think she will” that he will look to run her in the Ellis Park Debutante on Aug. 18.
As an aside, Jack Hancock skipped the first 2-year-old filly race at Keeneland to run in the second because it was sponsored by Elm Tree Farm, where Secretly Wicked was raised for breeder Nancy Shuford. “Then she won it,” he said.
Racing is a small world indeed. Elm Tree owners Jackie (who goes by Jody) and Michelle Huckabay bred the 2-year-old colt Not Again Jackie, whom they co-own with John Hancock's wife, Donna. Not Again Jackie is running in a maiden race on Ellis Park's opening card Sunday.
“When I got this filly from the Huckabays, Mr. Huckabay called John and said, 'I've got another one that I'd like for you to train,'” Jack Hancock recalled. “John said, 'Well, I'd like to buy half of it.' So they're partners with that one.”
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