Super Steed, who briefly emerged as a Kentucky Derby contender when he won Oaklawn Park's Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, makes his first start in six months in Sunday's $100,000 Ellis Park Derby, presented by Kruckemeyer & Cohn Jewelry.
After winning the Southwest at 62-1 odds on Feb. 18, Supersteed was sidelined by bone bruising that required time to heal. In his return, he faces an excellent field of ten 3-year-olds that also attracted Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Holy Bull winner Harvey Wallbanger, UAE Derby and Indiana Derby runner-up Gray Magician, Oaklawn Invitational runner-up Night Ops and Knicks Go, who started his career last year with a win at Ellis Park and went onto capture Keeneland's Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
“We don't have to haul him far, we just lead him out of his stall,” trainer Larry Jones said of Super Steed. “We're looking to get him to get back on the road to winning ways and back into the 3-year-old division. We're hoping this race could put him back in the Pennsylvania Derby.”
That $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 21 is expected to attract Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach, the Kentucky Derby favorite until he also was sidelined, and Mr. Money, the Ellis Park graduate whose four-race win streak most recently included the $500,000 West Virginia Derby.
Jones finished 1-2 in Ellis Park's mile race for 3-year-olds when it was revived last year, with Believe In Royalty holding off Kowboy Karma.
“The very first stakes I won on my life was this race,” Jones said. “It wasn't called the Ellis Park Derby, but at that time the 3-year-old mile stakes was called the Honorable Order of the Kentucky Colonels Stakes. I think it was 1986, with a $15,000 purse. I'd paid $800 for my horse (Capt. Bold), and I thought, 'Man, this is how you make money.' I've won it with about every kind of name. I wound up winning it with D.C. Tenacious and Poverty Slew when it was the Kentuckiana. In fact, that was the first $100,000 race I ever won when Poverty Slew won.”
To Super Steed's camp, the Ellis Park Derby isn't just another $100,000 stakes. Ellis Park is the hometown track not only for Jones, the Hopkinsville product and Henderson farm owner who got started in racing here, but also breeder Mike Pressley of Henderson, who co-owns Super Steed with Evansville doctor Steed Jackson. Super Steed is named for Jackson as well as the colt's sire, 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. Super Steed will be ridden for the first time by Calvin Borel, whose last of three Kentucky Derby victories was on Super Saver.
“I don't know if others would consider the Ellis Park Derby a big improvement over the Southwest, but we will,” joked Jones. “Steed was raised here walking hots on the backside. He's not afraid to come in here and grab a hold of one. If he has to grab a horse, he can.”
Super Steed's mom, Totally Tucker, produced Totally Boss, the winner in course-record time of last Sunday's $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint at Ellis Park. Like Totally Boss, the plan was to sell Super Steed.
“But he was a slow developer, had some things as a yearling that weren't attractive at the sales,” Jones said. “Taylor Made raised him and said, 'Mike, we think we're not going to get a whole lot for this horse if we sell him right now. And our team likes him. They say that out in the field that he runs and might be the fastest in the field.' So Mike opted to keep him.”
Local ties aside, Jones said they weren't necessarily pointing Super Steed for this race.
“But when the time came up and Dr. (Larry) Bramlage said he's ready to go back to training, then at the beginning of the meet it looked like this might could be a possibility,” he said. “But we still weren't trying to hurry him up to get here. He's had three five-eighths mile works. Hopefully he's ready. We're here to give it a try.
“It's not like we didn't have a little forewarning that this was something we could possibly run into,” Jones said of the setback after winning a Kentucky Derby points race. “We started him somewhat late, at Keeneland. He was a slow-maturer, and I also had his mother. So I could read a little into things he was doing.
“It's just a slow developing family, but it's a good family. Majestic Harbor, who is Totally Tucker's half-brother, was 6 when he won a Grade 1 at a mile and a quarter at Santa Anita. Another half-brother is Danza, who won the Arkansas Derby. Hopefully Super Steed can win here.”
Sunday's $125,000 Groupie Doll, also at a mile, attracted a field of six fillies and mares, with Moonlight Garden, an 8 1/2-length winner of the Iowa Distaff in her first start for trainer Brad Cox, the 7-5 favorite over 2-1 Go Google Yourself. Other contenders include My Mertie, winner of Arlington Park's Grade 3 Chicago Handicap over a synthetic surface in her last start.
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