Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.
The RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. kicks off its stakes racing Sunday with the $75,000 Ellis Park Turf for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on grass and the new $50,000 Dade Park Overnight Stakes for 3-year-old turf sprinters.
As often is the case, Brad Cox — the 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer who tied with Kenny McPeek for last year’s Ellis Park meet title — has the favorite in both races.
Don Alberto Stable’s Dominga is the tepid 5-2 favorite in the Ellis Park Turf and will break from the rail under Shaun Bridgmohan. Klein Racing’s Field Day is the 6-5 morning-line choice with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the Dade Park’s field of seven running 5 1/2 furlongs.
“She’s doing well,” Cox said of Dominga. “She’s coming off a victory in a (third level) allowance at Churchill and she’s a stakes-winner. She’s got some pedigree. So we’re hoping to add to her value by continuing to compete at the stakes level. She’s had a really good year. We gave her a break last summer, and she seems to have moved forward as an older horse.”
Dominga is one of five horses cross-entered in Indiana Grand’s Indiana General Assembly Distaff at the same distance on grass. But she drew post 11 for that stakes, with Cox saying he preferred her Ellis post.
The three horses entered only at Ellis — She’sonthewarpath, Pass the Plate and Nope — provide a solid core for an evenly-matched field.
In her three starts this year, 3-1 second choice She’sonthewarpath has faced some of the best turf fillies and mares in the country. In her last start, the 5-year-old mare finished third in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Mint Julep won by Mintd and with Grade 1 winner Juliet Foxtrot second.
“She ran hard last time,” said Steve Margolis, who is stabled at Ellis Park for the first time since early in his training career 20 years ago. “I think we got a little unlucky. She broke and was in a good spot, and then some horse came over on her a little bit. When they got to the backside, she was last. She wiggled her way and kept going, and pretty much ran a big third. It’s three weeks, but if I’d waited, there’s another race here but it would have been almost two months between race.”
She’sonthewarpath, who won three stakes last year for owner-breeders Robert and Lawana Low, lost her two starts this year to Brendan Walsh-trained horses: Mintd in the Mint Julep and the 5 1/2-furlong Unbridled Sidney won by the very good turf sprinter Into Mystic. Margolis said he sprinted her just because it was really the only spot to get her back going after a seven-month layoff.
“She ran a good fourth, probably just a little too short,” he said. “Those are specialized horses running that distance. She’s hooked some good company and always tries.”
She’sonthewarpath faces another Walsh horse in Nope, who enters the Ellis Park Turf off an impressive first-level allowance victory at Churchill after racing in blinkers for the first time. The Irish-bred daughter of No Nay Never is making her American stakes debut.
“She made a huge improvement the last race with the blinkers on,” Walsh said “I think that was key. Because up to that, she just lacked concentration more than anything, so it really worked the day we put them on. I’m hoping for more of the same.”
Nope concluded her 2-year-old season of 2019 with a fourth place – beaten a total of a half-length — in a Group 3 stakes at Newmarket after racing in Ireland.
“They felt she was a little unlucky in that race, and felt it bode well for her 3-year-old,” said Walsh, who received the filly but was only able to run her once in 2020 before Nope was sidelined 10 months. “She had some time off, but we’ve been gradually figuring her out. I felt the last race she made a big move forward, so maybe we’re getting to her now. Hopefully we have yet to see the best of her.”
Owned by Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton’s Silverton Hill Farms of Springfield, Ky., Pass the Plate comes in off a pair of 1 1/2-mile turf stakes, with a third in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes and a fourth in Churchill Downs’ $110,000 Keertana. She ended her 3-year-old season last December 26 with a nose victory in the Fair Grounds’ Pago Hop at a mile.
“She ran really well in the Bewitch,” said trainer Paul McGee. “She ran well in the Keertana. That was a really oddly-run race. That’s the race that the Al Stall filly (multiple stakes-winner Dalika) went out there in front by about 25 lengths all by her lonesome. And she wound up a good second. My filly, as usual, was out the back. She just doesn’t have any speed. But I feel like she ran OK to be fourth. But after the mile-and-a-half races, you almost have to shorten up.”
Pass the Plate (6-1) will be reunited with Joe Talamo, McGee’s nephew by marriage who last rode the filly to a second-place finish in last fall’s off-the-turf Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs.
McGee hopes down the road to run in Ellis’ $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf. That’s an automatic, fees-paid qualifier for the $750,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, though Pass the Plate could also fit well in the $550,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon at 1 5/16 miles at the Franklin track.
Will Dade Park be another field day for Field Day?
Klein Racing’s Field Day, a son of the Pin Oak Stud stallion Broken Vow, has never been worse than third in eight lifetime starts, all sprinting and all but one on turf (and that one came off the grass). In his last two starts, Field Day captured Churchill Downs’ William Walker Stakes and followed that with another victory in an open allowance race.
“There aren’t a lot of options out there for him,” Cox said. “He breezed on the turf last week and we shipped him down there (to Ellis). He’s doing well.”
The fastest horse in the race, based on speed figures, looks like Bob’s Choice, the 8-5 second choice. He sports a 3-1-3 record in seven starts, all on dirt.
“He’s got two siblings who were turf horses,” said trainer Larry Jones. “So we’re going to give it try. He’ll go as fast, I think, as we need him to as long as he takes to the surface.”
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