Tag: indiana derby

It was a battle to the finish between Pioneer Spirit and Seeking the Soul, but in the end, Pioneer Spirit got the edge to win the 19th running of the $100,000 Michael G. Schafer Memorial, a Listed Stakes. The race is named in honor of the first Indiana Horse Racing Commission chairman Michael G. Schaefer, who passed away in 2011. He is also a member of the Indiana Horse Racing Association Hall of Fame.

Pioneer Spirit and Florent Geroux held off Seeking The Soul and Brian Hernandez Jr. for the win in the 19th running of the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial during Indiana Derby Night. (Photo by Linscott Photography)

The petite field of five was led out of the gate by Pioneer Spirit and Florent Geroux for the one mile and 70 yard event. Geroux set the tempo of the race with Lookin at Lee and Ricardo Santana Jr. sitting right to their outside. Race favorite Seeking The Soul and Brian Hernandez Jr. was wide around the first turn seeking better positioning, something that didn’t happen until the backstretch.

Pioneer Spirit continued to lead the way as Seeking The Soul began to inch up toward the leader on the outside around opponents in the final turn and found himself in a battle with Pioneer Spirit for the stretch drive home. The two horses hooked up and neither was giving an inch. Seeking The Soul appeared to get a head in front but Pioneer Spirit battled back, eventually getting the best of Seeking The Soul for the win by a head at the finish line in a time of 1:39.82. Guest Suite and Robby Albarado used a late move on the outside to get the nod in a close photo finish for third over Lookin At Lee.

“We had a great trip,” said Geroux. “Seeking the Soul was coming off a layoff; he hadn’t run since the Pegasus. So I kind of felt he needed a race more than my horse. But my horse was very game. When Seeking the Soul came by him, he was going to fight back. Even if we were going a little bit farther, I felt like I had him. From the eighth pole to the wire, my horse put his head in front and kept on going.” (more…)

If a race was predicted at the start, Axelrod would not have been a strong contender for the win in the 24th running of the Grade III $500,000 Indiana Derby. However, it is how you finish that matters and Axelrod was full of momentum when he hit the wire, nabbing Trigger Warning for the win.

Florent Geroux never gave up on Axelrod, grabbing the victory in the Grade III $500,000 Indiana Derby Saturday, July 14 by the margin of a head at the finish line over Trigger Warning. (Photo by Linscott Photography)

Starting from post six, Axelrod and Florent Geroux broke slowly from the gate and was nowhere near the front runners of the nine horse field as Trigger Warning and Irwin Rosendo shot out to an early lead along the inside, tracked closely by Blame the Rider and Julien Leparoux just to their outside. Givemeaminit and Marcelino Pedroza sat third and Dark Vader with Corey Nakatani also showed early speed to sit in fourth just outside of Givemeaminit. Geroux chose to slip Axelrod over to the rail to save ground around the first turn and trail the field. Trigger Warning continued to set the brisk tempo and was showing no signs of letting up through the half, making it clear the field would have to fight him for the lead.

Around the turn, horses from the back of the pack began to make their move, including Axelrod who had chosen an outside path to move with horses toward the lead. At the head of the stretch, Trigger Warning had opened up by two lengths on the field and was not slowing down. Midway through the stretch, Geroux kept encouraging Axelrod for more speed and the three-year-old responded, surging toward the leader and getting the win in the very last step of the race by the margin of a head at the finish line in 1:43.00. Trigger Warning was a solid second over Title Ready and Ricardo Santana Jr., who also moved up late in the race to finish third over race favorite King Zachary and Robby Albarado.


The racing program for the 24th running of the Indiana Derby, Indiana’s richest horse race, was kicked off by an official welcome from Rod Ratcliff, chairman and CEO of Centaur Gaming and Jim Brown, president and COO of Centaur Gaming after the first race. A surprise presentation was made to Ratcliff as Indiana Grand’s seven-eighths […]

Story by Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award winning turf writer

When Robby Albarado suffered a broken ankle in a gate mishap two weeks before last year’s Kentucky Derby, the jockey said that horse owner Tom Conway sent a text telling him not to worry, that “your Derby horse is in Dale’s barn.”

Robby Albarado has won the Indiana Derby three times. His last win was recorded in 2007 aboard Zanjero. (Photo by Linscott Photography)

Conway, a Louisville attorney, was referring to the 2018 Derby, trainer Dale Romans and a young colt that Conway co-bred and owned outright that was a son of Curlin, whom Albarado rode throughout two Horse of the Year campaigns. King Zachary, the colt in reference who was still almost seven months from making his first start at the time of the text, missed the Kentucky Derby. But he is the 6-5 favorite in Saturday night’s $500,000 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand. Albarado believes that King Zachary’s victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes last month and the Indiana Derby will prove just the start of a huge second half of the season for the youngster.

“We’ve always really, really been high on him,” Albarado, who has won the Indiana Derby a record three times and will be riding in the race for a record 11th running, said recently. “I really like the colt. He has a lot of characteristics of Curlin, not comparing them. But he’s tactically fast, he rates, he’s a smart horse, a nice physical specimen. I think he’s going to become special.”

King Zachary missed his chance at the Kentucky Derby when he finished sixth in New York’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial after winning a maiden race at Gulfstream Park by 7 3/4 lengths.


By Jennie Rees, Eclipse award winning turf writer

Kelly Rubley is hoping to back up the biggest day yet in her young training career a week later with a big night Saturday on Indiana Grand’s stakes-laden Indiana Derby card.

 Rubley, a former exercise rider and assistant trainer for Barclay Tagg, earned her first graded-stakes triumph last Saturday when Divisidero won the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington Handicap in Chicago. A week later she’s saddling 8-1 Dalarna in the $100,000 Warrior Veterans on grass and 12-1 Papa Zulu in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial on dirt.

 “Certainly, I think it’s gotten me a lot of publicity,” Rubley said by phone from Maryland, where she is based at the Fair Hill training center. “It’s kind of put me on the radar where before I was lying just below it. Hopefully it’s earned me a little bit of respect, and I hope to continue doing good things.”

Dalarna will be seeking the title in the $100,000 Warrior Veterans Stakes Saturday on the undercard of the Indiana Derby. He begins from post seven with Emmanuel Esquivel aboard. (Photo by Jennie Rees)

 For starters, maybe it will help the racing world know that this Kelly is a she, not a he, as some have assumed. But Rubley, her stable having mushroomed from 15 horses to 50 the last couple of years, figures to be heard from more. Since starting out in 2014, she’s already won 87 races and $3.5 million in purses.

 The 4-year-old Dalarna comes into the Warrior Veterans Stakes off a third — missing the win by a half-length — in Monmouth Park’s $75,000 Cliff Hanger. Last fall the colt captured Belmont Park’s $100,000 English Channel Stakes, his third win in a row in a streak including a maiden and allowance race, He was a disappointing eighth, while racing wide on both turns, in his 2018 debut before his sharp effort in the Cliff Hanger.

 “I think he’s a very, very nice horse, and I’ve had a lot of confidence in him throughout the years,” Rubley said. “He proved me right by winning the English Channel in New York last fall. His first start this year was kind of mediocre, but he was coming off a break and I give him a lot of excuses for that. I thought he ran a heck of a race in the Cliff Hanger. He was by far the fastest-closing horse in that race and just missed — a bit of a timing issue.


Doug O’Neill will try to keep up his lofty stats in graded stakes at Indiana Grand. The California-based trainer had never run a horse here when he finished a close second in last year’s Indiana Oaks with Mopotism and immediately afterward won the Indiana Derby with Irap.


Blame the Rider, utilizing an exercise rider from the Brad Cox Stable, made his first trip to Indiana Grand’s oval Thursday, July 12 in preparation for the Indiana Derby. (Photo by Jennie Rees)

Now the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer is back for Saturday night’s $500,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby with Blame the Rider, who like Mopotism and Irap is owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam. Like Irap, Blame the Rider will break from post 2 as O’Neill goes for his third Indiana Derby triumph, the first being at Hoosier Park in 2003 with Excessivepleasure before Indiana Grand existed.

 Blame the Rider went 0 for 5 on dirt to start off his career, albeit one of those starts was the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis. Moved to the turf, his form has been very good, ripping off victories in a maiden race and Sara Anita’s mile Singletary Stakes and then second in that track’s 1 1/8-mile Rainbow Stakes a month ago. In those grass races, he showed speed that was largely missing on the dirt, and O’Neill is candid that he’d be delighted to have Blame the Rider on the lead in the colt’s return to the main track.

 “He’s always displayed a lot of talent in the mornings, and we just did not see any of it in the afternoon on the dirt,” O’Neill said by phone. “I think a lot of it was maybe the game was too quick for him, and on the turf, everything slowed down a little bit. So now we’re hoping he’s mentally ready to try the better dirt horses. It is an experiment. But the purse is huge, he’s doing great and we thought we’d take a chance.


Story by Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award winning turf writer

Growing up in Lexington, Ky., as the son of a trainer, Rusty Arnold developed a strong respect and appreciation for the titans in horse racing and breeding. In a career that started in 1970, Arnold has been fortunate enough to train for some of them.

Funny Duck and Brian Hernandez Jr. rally through the rain and mud to win the Pat Day Mile on KY Derby Day at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Coady Photography)

Most recently that includes iconic Calumet Farm, for whom he’ll saddle Funny Duck in Saturday night’s $500,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand. Calumet Farm — winner of a record eight Kentucky Derbys as an owner and nine as a breeder — is now owned by Brad Kelley, the Franklin, Ky., native who amassed a fortune in discount cigarettes and ranks among the largest land-owners in America. The Calumet silks no longer are devil’s red and blue but Kelley’s black with gold chevrons. But Kelley’s investment in Calumet and horses illustrate his commitment to playing at the top end of the sport.

“I took a bus trip to Calumet Farm when we were in grade school,” Arnold reflected recently in a phone interview. “We got to see the (horse) graveyard, the farm. To come back 40, 50 years later, training for them and winning graded stakes, it’s special. It’s not a whole lot different than training for Mr. (G. Watts) Humphrey or Mr. (Will) Farish. These old-time farms, I’ve been blessed to train for several of them. It’s very nice to do what I do and have horses for them.

“Calumet Farm looks unbelievable when you drive by now. He’s preserved history, and not many people are going to do that.”


A field of nine has been drawn for the 24th running of the Grade III $500,000-guaranteed Indiana Derby Saturday, July 14 at Indiana Grand. The race, slated as the ninth on the 10-race card, will have an estimated post time of 9:48 p.m. The first race post is 5:30 p.m.

King Zachary before training at Churchill Downs on July 10, 2018, with exercise rider Faustino Aguilar aboard. (Jennie Rees photo)

King Zachary comes into the race off an impressive four-plus length win in the Grade III $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in mid June. The flashy chestnut son of Curlin had a late start to his racing career, finishing third in his only start at two last fall at Churchill Downs. Since that time, he has progressively showed his talents on the track and is currently three for six in his career with only one start finishing off the board.

“He’s a good horse, just coming into his own,” said trainer Dale Romans by phone following the post position draw Wednesday, July 11 at Indiana Grand. “With top horses, post shouldn’t make a difference. As long as he’s in the gate is the main thing. We’re expecting him to come up and run huge.”

A $550,000 yearling purchase by longtime Louisville resident Tom Conway, King Zachary will begin from post eight as the favorite at odds of 6-5. Robby Albarado, a three-time Indiana Derby winning jockey, has ridden King Zachary in all of his career starts and will be aboard again for the Indiana Derby.


by Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award Winning Turf Writer

The connections of  Lookin At Lee are hoping the 4-year-old colt can carry over his First Saturday in May form to the second Saturday in July in the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial on Indiana Grand’s showcase Indiana Derby card.

Lookin At Lee was nominated to the 2017 Indiana Derby, but didn’t make the trip to Indiana. He will make the trip in 2018 for the $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Mile. (Photo by Coady Photography)

Lookin At Lee was a fast-flying second in last year’s Kentucky Derby won by Always Dreaming. This past Derby Day, Lee won an allowance race at Churchill Downs, his first victory since taking the Ellis Park Juvenile at age 2.

In between, however, he’s been steady and consistent enough to collect checks contributing to a $1.13 million bank account. That includes second in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Preakness Stakes. So off his allowance victory May 5, which made Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen only the second trainer to win 8,000 races, there was optimism that Lookin At Lee would start turning those on-the-board finishes into winner’s circle appearances.

Instead he was an uncharacteristically lethargic eighth in Churchill Downs’ Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. The Schaefer is a reset.


By Eclipse Award winning freelance writer Jennie Rees

Trainer Dale Romans long has said that King Zachary is as good as any 3-year-old in his large Churchill Downs-based stable.

 Owner Tom Conway has been talking up his homebred son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin long before King Zachary ever ran. 

King Zachary comes into the 24th running of the Grade III $500,000 Indiana Derby off a win at Churchill Downs in the Matt Winn. (Photo by Coady Photography)

 Now King Zachary takes another step toward backing up their beliefs when the strapping chestnut runs in Saturday night’s $500,000 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand, where he’ll likely be one of the favorites after taking Churchill Downs’ Grade 3, $100,000 Matt Winn in his last start.

 “Tom and I talked about it (Sunday) night,” Romans said Monday. “It just made a lot of sense. A half-million dollars is a lot of money, and the timing is good to try to make the Travers at Saratoga with him. This is a really good horse. You know the (handicapping) number he ran in the Matt Winn is the same thing that (Triple Crown winner) Justify has been running.”

 Especially being a longtime Louisvillian, the 80-year-old Conway was very much hoping to run King Zachary at his hometown track the first Saturday in May. He did, just not in the Kentucky Derby, with King Zachary winning of an entry-level allowance that went off as the 13th race.

 “He got some ‘shins’ at a bad time last year and had a few little issues that kept him from getting into the Derby,” Romans said. “But he’s ready to run now.”

 Conway bred King Zachary in partnership with a lifelong friend, buying the colt outright for a bid of $550,000 at the Keeneland yearling sale, albeit having to put up only half that.

 “I’ve liked him since he was a baby,” said Conway, who is an attorney. “You know how sometimes a horse stands and its ears are up; and they’ve got a wandering eye, they’re looking around to see who’s watching them? Taking everything in. This horse has presence. I think he’s a classy individual.”

King Zachary started his career with a pair of thirds before winning March 18 at Gulfstream Park. But Conway says it was the second start, when King Zachary was a late-running third, that convinced jockey Robby Albarado that the colt was the real deal.