Something Special Racing's Hog Creek Hustle became the third Grade 1 winner to have raced at Ellis Park as a 2-year-old last year when the 18-1 shot captured Saturday's $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes by a neck over Nitrous at New York's Belmont Park.
It was the first Grade 1 victory for trainer Vickie Foley, who spent her childhood summers at Ellis working for her dad, the late trainer Dravo Foley, and had her own stable there for many years before opting to keep her horses at Churchill Downs during the offseason. Hog Creek Hustle was ridden by Corey Lanerie, Ellis' three-time defending riding leader and five-time titlist overall.
To win, Hog Creek Hustle had to survive a stewards' inquiry sparked by the winner coming over into second-choice Mind Control at the top of the stretch. Hog Creek Hustle powered the seven-eighths of a mile in a sizzling 1:21.12 and paid $39.80 on a $2 win bet.
“At the three-eighths pole, I felt we had the race,” Foley said by phone from New York. “I really felt confident, I could tell by the way he was running with Corey. Then I saw him bump with the other horse when he tried to get him to switch leads. I'm just saying, 'Please, please. Don't take this horse down.' I thought, 'I'm in New York. We're the underdogs.'
“We've been running against the best horse in the country in War of Will. He didn't show his best in the Belmont, but he's danced every dance. We knew how good our horse was, and we knew the seven-eighths would be dead-on for him. We just knew he deserved it.”
The Belmont stewards did hand Lanerie a suspension for causing interference that will span five New York racing days. Lanerie, who is on top of the Churchill Downs rider standings, said he will serve them during the Ellis meet. “Better that than disqualifying the horse,” he said.
Hog Creek Hustle rallied from last to win his first start last Aug. 18 at Ellis under Lanerie. He joins Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, who won last summer's Ellis Park Debutante by 13 1/2 lengths, and Knicks Go as Grade 1 winners who early on raced at the Henderson track. Knicks Go won Keeneland's Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity three races after winning his July 4 debut at Ellis and then finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Serengeti Empress also turned in a huge performance Saturday on the Belmont Stakes card, finishing second in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes after setting a blazing pace under pressure, only to be run down in the stretch by emerging-star Guarana. Arklow, winner of Ellis Park's inaugural $100,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Preview, got nipped by a neck on the final strides of Friday's two-mile $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup by European invader Amade.
The victory vindicated Hog Creek Hustle's owners going about 50 percent over budget when they purchased the Overanalyze colt for $150,000 at Keeneland's September yearling sale.
“He was really the only one we went to buy,” said Patty Tipton, who went to the sale with partner Stewart Smith and Foley. “We thought we could get him for less than we did, but I said, 'I don't think we need to leave here without him, do we, Stewart?' And he said, 'Nope. Let's get him.' Our other partners, Mickey and Beth Martin, he came in my house Friday night after we bought him. Mickey says, 'I hear we got a horse. Did we stay within our budget?' I said, 'Let me fix you a cocktail.' He's like, 'OK,' and we talked on and on and he says, 'So, how much?' And I said, 'Let me refresh your drink.'
“… … When he was sold, Stewart looks at me and says, 'We're going to need some more partners.' We all had to come up with more money than we anticipated. But we got in this deal to have fun. He's certainly given us that.”
Said Mickey Martin, who is Tipton's neighbor in Lexington: “After she softened me up with the cocktails, when I laid eyes on him for the first time, I said, 'He's something special.' I went home and wrote a check. That's where we came up with the name Something Special Racing.”
Hog Creek Hustle backed that up early with his win at Ellis Park.
“We really didn't have any expectations,” said Tipton. “The way he did it, from dead last, we just flipped our lid. We said, 'We really do have something special.'”
The colt's distinctive name comes from Tipton being raised in tiny Hog Creek, Ky., a little strip of land 35 miles east of Lexington on the Hog Creek stream. In fact, the great trainer Woody Stephens, for whom the stakes is named, grew up in Stanton, not far from Hog Creek.
“I think it's on the map now, probably because we put it there,” Tipton said. “It's the poorest community in Montgomery County. When we bought this horse, my daughter (Candy Minnich) got in for a piece of it and we're all at the house one night having a big time and decide to name the horse. She says, 'Mom, you picked him out, did the leg work, put this group together. We should name him after you.' I said, 'That's not going to happen.' She said, 'All of us in this group came up the hard way, from Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. We've all had to hustle to get where we are today. If we name him Hog Creek Hustle it represents where we're all from.”
Hog Creek Hustle finished second to multiple stakes-winner Gray Attempt in the Fair Grounds' Sugar Bowl and second and fourth in Kentucky Derby prep races won by future Preakness champion War of Will. After being bumped at the start and turning in an uncharacteristically poor performance in the Louisiana Derby, Hog Creek Hustle was shortened back up in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby Day, rallying to take second to the talented Mr. Money, who also raced at Ellis Park as a 2-year-old.
“If it wasn't for some bad luck at the Fair Grounds, we'd have been in the Kentucky Derby,” Foley said. “But things turn out sometimes for the best. We made the choice to run in the Pat Day Mile, even if he'd gotten the points to get in the Derby, because that was the best thing to do for the horse. I believe a one-turn mile is his best race, and he's proven that.”
In that regard, the next big target will be Saratoga's Grade 1 Allen Jerkens (formerly the King's Bishop), also at seven furlongs. And if Hog Creek Hustle is unlikely to ever race again at Ellis Park, Foley fully expects to be running several promising 2-year-olds at the meet this summer.
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