Jill Baffert, co-owner, gives Du Jour a kiss after his win in the G2 American Turf
Du Jour, winner of Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 American Turf on Kentucky Derby Day, heads a capacity field of twelve 3-year-olds entered for Sunday’s $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby on opening day of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
The Vicki Oliver-trained Core Values, fresh off beating boys in Ellis Park’s prep for the Dueling Grounds Derby, goes back in against fillies while putting her three-race win streak on the line in the co-featured $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks. Both stakes are 1 5/16 miles, one lap around Kentucky Downs’ undulating, kidney-shaped course.
A total of 145 horses are on the program for Sunday’s 11-race card, with an extra race added because of the strong demand. There are 124 horses in the body of the races, with another 21 needing defections in order to run. Seven races attracted at least 12 entries. The Dueling Grounds Oaks’ field of nine is the smallest field, with an 11-horse field and a pair of 10-horse fields rounding out the card.
Du Jour most recently was third in Saratoga’s $1 million, Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational after finishing fourth in the $1 million, Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational in his first two races for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The colt previously was trained by California-based Bob Baffert, whose wife, Jill, is Du Jour’s co-owner. Du Jour’s American Turf was part of a huge day at Churchill Downs for Baffert, who finished first with Medina Spirit for what seemed to be his record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby victory. That victory is in doubt, however, with Medina Spirit facing potential disqualification after subsequently testing positive for a therapeutic medication at more than the permitted level on race day.
Reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox has a strong tandem in the 3-year-old stakes with Royal Prince in the Dueling Grounds Derby and Adventuring in the Dueling Grounds Oaks.
Royal Prince lost Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Dueling Grounds Derby by a nose to Core Values after garnering a second and third in a pair of $75,000 stakes at the Fair Grounds and Sam Houston earlier in the year. Royal Prince has the distinction of finishing first in his debut at Kentucky Downs a year ago, only to have the race declared a no-contest because of a gate malfunction.
Modern Science gets another crack at Royal Prince after leading all the way in the Ellis Park prep only to get passed late to finish third by a total of a neck.
Among other Dueling Grounds Derby contenders: Kelly Breen ships Delaware’s Grade 3 Kent Stakes victor Yes This Time in from Saratoga where the colt’s five-race win streak ended with an eighth place in the Saratoga Derby after being pinched off at the start.
The Rusty Arnold-trained Cellist was sixth in the Saratoga Derby and third in the Belmont Derby after defeating Dueling Grounds Derby entrant Palazzi and Royal Prince in Churchill Downs’ Audubon Stakes. Arnold also has Grey Streak in the Dueling Grounds Derby, with both colts owned by Calumet Farm.
Adventuring was third, by a total of a half-length, as the favorite in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks, won by Core Value’s stablemate Flippant in a stakes sweep for Oliver. The winner of Turfway Park’s Bourbonette, Adventuring worked a half-mile in a sparkling 47 2/5 seconds on Monday – the fastest of the morning — in company with Royal Prince.
Also back from Ellis Park’s Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks is fourth-place finisher Oliviaofthedesert. Trainer Kenny McPeek has enjoyed a lot of success in the Dueling Grounds Oaks, winning in 2019 with Princesa Carolina and in 2017 with Daddys Lil Darlin and coming in second in 2018 with Princess Warrior.
Mark Casse, voted into racing’s Hall of Fame last year and formally inducted this year after a COVID delay, sends out the entry of Woodbine allowance winner Inthewinnerscircle and Earth Strike in the Dueling Grounds Oaks among his seven horses in on Sunday.
Joel Rosario comes in from Saratoga to ride the opening card and has been named on 10 horses, including Du Jour and Adventuring. Also leaving Saratoga early is defending meet champion Tyler Gaffalione, who likewise is in every race but one.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time win leader who captured his fifth training crown last year, has a relatively calm opening day by the frenetic standards he’s set at the entry box for the track. Maker has six horses in the entries, two of which are on the also-eligible list and will need defections to run. Among those assured of being in the race is Hilliard, a $40,000 claim at Saratoga in his last start. Maker will try to make the gelding his latest stakes winner by running him longer distances on turf.
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