This time of the year, it's natural for Thoroughbred owners with promising sophomores to begin having Kentucky Derby hopes and dreams and Jeff Bloom is no exception. Despite having raced exclusively on turf, he's giving dual stakes winner Henley's Joy the chance to prove himself on the main track in Saturday's Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds.
Trained by Mike Maker, Henley's Joy has shown talent in his six career starts. Aside from a well-beaten 13th in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs, the son of Kitten's Joy has never been beaten by more than a neck and has won a pair of stakes on grass, most recently the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park on December 8. Bloom is aware that the main track is a whole different ball game, but he's willing to give it a try.
“He shows up every time and he's a horse that really enjoys his job,” Bloom said. “He's given us every indication that he'll run well on dirt based on how he's trained on it. If you look at a couple of his races where things didn't go his way, he manages to overcome some bad circumstances. Last time at Gulfstream Park (in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on January 5), he broke to the extreme outside, was compromised substantially and only had a near miss.”
As an experienced Thoroughbred owner, Bloom knows that this is the right spot on the calendar to try some experimenting and figure out what a good 3-year-old is really made of.
“Anytime you have a talented three year old this time of year you get excited about the idea of being a part of the Triple Crown,” Bloom said. “It goes without saying that you don't think of Kitten's Joy when you think of dirt but my take on that is that good horses typically run on any surface. When Mike and I talked about it, we came to the conclusion that this was the time to take the shot. It's not like we're passing up any significant turf race in lieu of this. He trains well over the dirt, I see him train over multiple dirt surfaces and he trains beautifully. If he takes to it, it opens up a lot of doors. If not, he's still one of the best turf 3-year-olds in the country. The Risen Star is a great race to try something new.”
Henley's Joy has beaten some of the horses that he will be facing on Saturday, including graded stakes placed Plus Que Parfait, who ran third behind Henley's Joy in an Ellis Park maiden special weight in July where both horses were making their career debut. Henley's Joy also
finished ahead of eventual Grade III Lecomte Stakes winner War of Will in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, when running a close second and 2½ lengths in front of War of Will who was fourth.
“I don't think it's so rare anymore to see young good turf horses make that jump to the dirt,” Bloom said. “It's always nice to have those options. There's nothing wrong with having a really good turf horse. It comes down to the plenty of opportunity that exist if he does perform well in the Risen Star.”
Henley's Joy will be ridden by Manuel Franco.
Bred in Kentucky by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Henley's Joy is out of the Bluegrass Cat broodmare Bluegrass Music, who was a three-time winner on dirt. He comes from the same family as multiple Grade I winner on turf Golden Pheasant as well as Grade III dirt winner Time's Mistress. He was purchased for $50,000 from the Ocala Breeders Sales Company's Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale last April where he was consigned by Cary Frommer.
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