Thursday's featured $250,000 Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs is for horses who haven't won a stakes race in 2018. That doesn't mean the horses in the overflow field of 15 don't possess talent.
The Old Friends, conducted at a mile and 70 yards, attracted an excellent field whose entries include a Grade 1 winner (Undrafted), a Grade 1-placed horse (Next Shares), Grade 2 winners (Conquest Panthera, Dimension), Grade 3 winner (Cowboy Culture) and multiple stakes-winners (Master Merion).
Thursday is Old Friends Day, which serves as a fund-raiser for the Old Friends equine retirement farms that have a satellite facility at Kentucky Downs. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be on hand to sign commemorative prints of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, available for a suggested $10 donation. Proceeds will go to Old Friends, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and The Giving Circle. Smith will sign the prints from 1-3 p.m. CT in an area near the finish line.
Wesley Ward entered both Undrafted, winner of Royal Ascot's Group 1 Diamond Jubilee in 2015 and the Old Friends' 4-1 morning-line favorite, and Master Merion, but said via text that he'll probably just run Master Merion and enter Undrafted back in Saturday's $500,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. Master Merion, winner of last year's Franklin-Simpson for 3-year-olds over the Kentucky Downs course, was scratched from last Saturday's $750,000 Tourist Mile, which Ward won with Bound for Nowhere.
Both Master Merion and Undrafted are coming in off disappointing finishes at England's Royal Ascot meet, with Ward often bringing those horses back to the races at Kentucky Downs after a 2 1/2-month freshening.
In Bound for Nowhere, Ward already has won one stakes this meet with a horse who last ran at Ascot.
Among the “horses for courses” in the field are Parlor, second in both last year's Dueling Grounds Derby and the 2016 Kentucky Downs Juvenile, and Flatlined, who won the 2016 Old Friends and was second in last year's Tourist Mile.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is sending out Doctor Mounty, a good second in Monmouth Park's Grade 3 Oceanport in his last start. McGaughey already won the Old Friends' filly and mare counterpart with On Leave.
A strong invader comes from California in the Richard Baltas-trained Next Shares, who twice this year has lost Grade 1 races by a half-length.
Cowboy Culture, from the powerful Brad Cox barn, is shooting for his first stakes at 4 after winning three stakes last year.
Another oldie-but-goodie is the 10-year-old Dimension, who won the 2014 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash (now the Turf Sprint). Dimension is trying to get back on track after four disappointing races this year since closing out his 9-year-old season in winning the Fair Grounds' Buddy Diliberto Memorial at 40-1 odds.
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