Chances are, when the subject of Indiana racing is broached, you're most likely talking about the four wheeled races at the “Yard Of Bricks,” and not the ones contested by our equine athletes on the dirt and turf surfaces of Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park. Yes, my friends, there is more then corn, Indy cars, and Peyton Manning in Indiana. There is also top quality horse racing.
Some of it was on display this past Wednesday, when the ungraded Golden Bear stakes for 3 year olds and up took center stage. Let's get into a “Hoosier State Of Mind” as we take a look back on a phenomenal night of racing.
The stars came out to shine at Indiana Downs, with a race card that boasted over $450,000 in purse money. The caliber of racing was such that it could hold its own with a Saturday at Churchill Downs. The card had everything from a 2 year old maiden turf sprint, to a 8.5 furlong $100,000 stakes race on the dirt that easily could have been graded.
The 5th race was a $40,000 optional claimer for colts and geldings at 5 ½ furlongs. The favorite was a majestic looking son of Grand Slam, Steve Asmussen trainee Kajiwara. He looked like a million bucks in person. Kajiwara was coming off a disappointing 4th place finish - as the favorite - in the Prarie Express Stakes at Prarie Meadows, a race in which he set incredibly fast fractions before fading badly, beaten nearly 15 lengths. His main competition in this optional claimer was the Steve Margolis trained colt Storm In The Lake, a son of Stormin Fever who had been working up a, well, storm for his 3 year old debut. The betting public made Kajiwara the heavy 3/5 favorite, despite Storm In The Lake's solid worktab.
As the gates opened, Storm In The Lake actually out broke the speedy Kajiwara, to the surprise of many on track, including this observer. Kajiwara's jockey, Jamie Theriot seemed content to rate the heavy favorite, as Marlon St. Julien pushed his colt to the lead.
Kajiwara made a menacing move on the turn and was eye to eye with "Storm” as they entered the stretch. The Margolis trainee was able to hold his own, however, as he shook off the challenge from the heavy favorite to draw off to win by 2 ½ lengths. Storm In The lake would pay $35.20 to win and topped an exacta, with the heavy favorite running 2nd , which paid a hefty $103.80.
Indiana breds took to the track in The Governor's Stakes, a race for 3 year old colts and geldings run at the mile distance over the Indiana Downs turf course for a purse of $84,000.
The race was loaded with talented Indiana breds. Trainer Mike Maker conditioned the favorite Buster Rose, a speedy son of Pioneering. Buster, on this night, was asked to do two things he'd never done before: Run on the lawn and do it while going around two turns. I went in a different direction, settling in on the maiden Baltersan, who was making only the 2nd start of his career. Baltersan boasted royal turf breeding, a son of Castledale, out of a Colony Light mare.
Elsewhere in the race, the entry for trainer Michael Lauer seemed very live. Purely Amature came off a win around 2 turns. He was trying the turf for the first time, however. Still, being a son of Pure Prize, it stood to reason that he would relish it. Ellenberger Park (a colt named after a park 2 miles from my house in (Indianapolis, Indiana) was also trying the turf for the first time. The colt had flashed a few signs of brilliance in his career but all in all had been an under-achiever. Slew City Boy was ignored on the tote board, being sent off at 20-1. He got the blinkers off and was also trying the turf for the first time. He showed good close in his short career, but had already been defeated badly by the favorite Buster Jones.
The Indiana breds broke in a perfect line. Buster Rose sat just off of Bellamy Jones going into the first turn. He took the advantage on the back stretch, quickly opening up 3 lengths on the field. Purely Amature sat the trip in third, some 6 lengths off the leader. Slew City Boy would sit just in behind Purely Amature. As they reached the top of the stretch, Buster Rose was alone on the lead and looked to be cruising to his 3rd straight win and his 2nd straight stakes win. But Slew City Boy would have none of that, making a ferocious move in the stretch, under the handling of jockey Azael De Leon. The son of Slew City Slew was poised to blow on by the Rose. Buster Rose dug in deep for jockey Thomas Pompell and fought back late but it was not enough, as Slew City Boy drove past, winning by a head and blowing up the tote board in the process. Purely Amature held on over his entry mate to finish 3rd. The exacta paid $137.00 and the tri paid $441.60.
It had already been an exciting night at the downs. But it had only just begun.
As I walked down to the paddock for the Golden Bear Stakes, I felt like I was at Churchill Downs.
I looked over to my left and saw trainer Steve Asmussen saddling the favorite Thiskyhasnolimit. The Asmussen trainee was already a grade III winner having won the Texas Mile at Lonestar Park.
I took a look to my right and saw the Jeff Thornbury entry of Hurricane Ike and Mad Flatter. The classy Hurricane Ike was himself a graded stakes winner, having won the grade III Derby Trial in 2010. Mad Flatter as coming off an impressive victory at Churchill Downs. Flatter also was a grade III winner, having conquered the Spend A Buck stakes at Calder last year.
My eyes lit up when I saw the beautiful, familiar gray face of Jardim. I first witnessed his talent in person last year at Indiana Downs, where he would push former Illinois Derby winner Recapturetheglory all the way to the wire in an allowance race. Jardim would go on to CRUSH his foes in the Michael Shaeffer mile at Hoosier Park. But the gray son of Ski Champ was coming off two poor performances for trainer Eduardo Caramori and was ignored on the tote board.
When I first saw the Kenny Mcpeek trainee Gautier, I almost lost my breath. This beautiful Chestnut colt reminded me of a darker Curlin. As he strutted in the paddock, his muscles were rippling, his head was bowed. He looked as if he was a man among boys. I've never been so visually struck by a horse in the paddock before. Gautier was un-beaten and un-tested. A Kentucky bred, Gautier was making his first start in the U.S., having gone a perfect 6 for 6 while racing in Peru. He was a grade III winner in South America, and had never had a horse even finish within 3 lengths of him at the wire. Moreover, the Belong To Me colt was working up a storm at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Golden Bear. Lots to like.
Country Flavor had the look of an older timer, he was tried and tested, nothing raveled him, he seemed totally relaxed and totally focused on his task. Greg Geier's colt was finally getting a pace to run at and he seemed very live. He was also a grade III winner having captured the 2010 Hanshin Handicap.
The gates opened, and the entry of Mad Flatter and Hurricane Ike rushed towards the lead on the far outside. Country Flavor started off beautifully and got a great spot on the rail, tracking the entry. Jardim was 3 wide while rating in 5th. Thiskyhasnolimit was further back than normal some 6 lengths off the pace. Gautier found his stride after a poor start,while racing in the back of the pack, some 9 lengths off the pace.
Mad Flatter set a lively pace of 23.72 and 46.48. As they reached the top of the stretch, Mad Flatter was on a 2 length lead. Hurricane Ike began to fade badly. Country Flavor and Jardim moved together.
Leandro Goncalves guided Country Flavor to the lead in the stretch, Marlon St.Julien roused Jardim on the outside, Mad Flatter was fading. Deep in the stretch Country Flavor had the lead, Jardim was flying late, under the right handed whip of St.Julien. Jardim roared on by to win by a hard earned ½ length.
Gautier closed nicely to finish 3rd only beaten 2 lengths. Mad Flatter was 4th and Thiskyhasnolimit was a disappointing 5th. The time of 141.19 for the 8.5 furlongs was posted. Jardim crushed the track record by nearly a full second!
Jardim paid $29.40 to win, the exacta paid $189.40, and the tri paid an enormous $1,567.80.
I rushed towards the winners circle as they brought the gorgeous gray horse back to get his picture taken.
I watched as Marlon St.Julien pointed to the sky and shouted “Thank You God.”
This would be Jardim's 2nd stakes win in the Hoosier State. And you can expect to see him defend his title in the Michael Shaeffer mile at Hoosier Park.This introductory column has, hopefully, whet your appetite for our brand of racing - which I'll be chronicalling weekly.
You want big payoffs? Top-flight racing? The Hoosier State has got you covered.
I look forward to proving it to you.