A year ago, Jazzy Times came into Ellis Park's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint after winning his first race on turf in a $25,000 claiming race at Indiana Grand. Jazzy Times won Ellis' 5 1/2-furlong stakes at 15-1 odds and seemed on his way to fulfilling owner-trainer Wes Hawley's expectations in the gelding.
A year later, the 6-year-old Jazzy Times is scheduled to head back to Ellis Park on Aug. 4 in defense of last year's KD Preview Turf Sprint triumph. But it's been a bumpy road, with the gelding 0 for 4 since that stakes score. However, a half-mile workout in a lively 46 4/5 seconds Friday morning at Churchill Downs under jockey James Graham indicated Jazzy Times could be sitting on another big effort.
“He worked great, traveled through his work beautifully and galloped out pretty nice,” Graham said after being aboard Jazzy Times for the first time in the workout. “All that we can be hopeful for, right? He's a nice horse — strong, aggressive. But in his races he's not that aggressive, looking back at his file. We'll see what we can muster up. He's proven he's likes good firm footing underneath his foot. He won the stakes last year, so we know he likes Ellis.”
The KD Preview Turf Sprint is one of five $100,000 stakes on grass funded by money transferred from Kentucky Downs to Ellis Park's purse account in an agreement with the two tracks' horsemen's group, the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association.
Hawley is hoping that the addition of blinkers for the first time in 12 races also does the trick. Jazzy Times wore the blinkers in the workout, his half-mile time surpassed only by Indiana Derby winner Mr. Money's 46 2/5 seconds among the 95 works at that distance Friday at Churchill.
“I was looking for a good work,” said Hawley, who claimed Jazzy Times for $25,000 at Churchill Downs three races before the gelding won the Ellis Park stakes. “We'd put blinkers on him for the first time. He'd had them on before when Bob Baffert had him (in 2016) and Brad Cox had him (in 2017). They were taken off him. He ran some great races for me last year without the blinkers. But the other day he kind of wasn't focused, it looked like. We put blinkers on him and it seemed to have helped quite a bit.
“When I claimed him and put him on the grass, I said, 'This horse might become a good one.' Then we won the race over at Ellis, and the next thing you know, I worked him one morning and little things came unglued on him. Hopefully the addition back to the blinkers and a few little things tweaking here and there, maybe he'll come back to being the horse I was hoping he was.”
Heading into the Ellis stakes last year, Hawley said he thought Jazzy Times could be another Chamberlain Bridge, who won $1.9 million, including the 2010 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint after being claimed for $35,000 by Louisville-based trainer Bret Calhoun.
“I thought there was a possibility, with his back class,” said Hawley, alluding to Jazzy Times finishing third in a Grade 1 sprint on dirt at Santa Anita when trained by Baffert. “The sky was the limit.”
Jazzy Times was preparing for the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint after the Ellis race last year when little issues surfaced.
“There was a lot of disappointment, but I'm a big boy in the game,” he said. “I own the horse, so I can kind of do what I want to do. It just kept him off. Nothing really healed up like it should, like a jock who gets older, sometimes it doesn't heal up as quick as an 18 year old.”
Jazzy Times resumed racing in April in Keeneland's Grade 2 Shakertown, finishing eighth but only losing by a total of 4 1/2 lengths. Back in Churchill Downs' Grade 2 Turf Sprint, he ran into a World of Trouble, literally and figuratively, with that horse arguably the best turf sprinter in the country.
Hawley subsequently set his sights lower, with Jazzy Times a good second behind Extravagant Kid, whom he'd beaten last summer at Ellis, in Churchill Downs' $120,000 Mighty Beau Stakes. He lost all chance in a subsequent stakes-quality allowance race after stumbling at the start, coming home 10th.
“I don't know, maybe we'll get lucky and he'll come back to what he was,” Hawley said. “After I ran him on grass at Indiana Grand, he ran so fast and the way he did it, I was impressed. I said that I couldn't run him back for the $40,000 in case they claimed him and he became a good horse. That's why I took a shot last summer and ran him in the stakes at Ellis. I didn't take shot. I drove like hell to get back from Mountaineer Park (where he ran a horse the previous day in West Virginia) to get to Ellis in enough time to watch the race. I got there, and it was exciting. But I didn't even have a chance to change. I was sweating. But it was a great day.”
And his confidence going into the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint this year? “If he runs the way he worked this morning, I don't think they'll beat him,” Hawley said. “If everything is the way tomorrow that it was going into this work, I like our chances.”
The winner of the KD Preview Turf Sprint earns an automatic spot and entry-fees paid berth in the $700,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. That six-furlong stakes on Sept. 7 is a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race, meaning its winner gets an automatic spot and entry-fees paid berth in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Kentucky Downs also is offering a $1 million bonus should its winner go on to take Keeneland's Woodford Stakes and the Breeders' Cup race.
And if Jazzy Times doesn't win? Well, he's also eligible for a Kentucky Downs allowance race on Sept. 8 for horses who have raced for $25,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2018. That purse is $100,000.
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