A field of nine fillies and mares, led by Grade II winners Don’t Tell Sophia and Fiftyshadesofhay, has been entered for the 98th running of the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (Grade II) on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs.
Photo: Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club
Thursday’s 1 1/8-mile holiday fixture will go as Race 11 with a 4:21 p.m. (all times Eastern) post time as the centerpiece of a special 12-race program. The first race begins early at 11:30 a.m.
Phil Sims and Jerry Namy’s rags-to-riches 5-year-old mare Don’t Tell Sophia, is the 122-pound starting high weight and will concede 2-10 pounds to her eight rivals while breaking from the outside stall.
Trained by Sims and purchased for the bargain price of $1,000 as a yearling, Don’t Tell Sophia was an emphatic 2 ½-length winner of the $165,200 Chilukki (GII) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2. She clocked one mile that day in a swift 1:35.14 and won for the seventh time in 16 starts to boost her career earnings to $440,814. More than $300,000 of that total has been earned this year.
The Falls City Handicap field from the rail out (with jockeys, assigned weight and morning line odds): Flashy American (Corey Lanerie, 118, 3-1); Ice Cream Silence (Julien Leparoux, 114, 15-1); Fiftyshadesofhay (Mike Smith, 120, 5-2); Owl Moon (Francisco Torres, 112, 20-1); Magic Hour (Brian Hernandez Jr., 115, 12-1); My Option (Eddie Perez, 114, 8-1); Wine Princess (Shaun Bridgmohan, 117, 6-1); Molly Morgan (Jesus Castanon, 114, 20-1); and Don’t Tell Sophia (Joe Rocco Jr., 122, 3-1). The Falls City status of morning-line favorite Fiftyshadesofhay (12-4-3-3—$754,297) is in flux. Trainer Bob Baffert planned to run the Black-Eyed Susan (GII) winner and Alabama (GI) runner-up in Saturday’s $200,000 Comely (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct. That could still happen, but the Hall of Fame conditioner cross-entered Fiftyshadesofhay in the Falls City to “take a look” at the field and closely monitor the weather forecast in both locales.
The Thanksgiving Day forecast for Louisville calls for sunny skies with a brisk high near 37 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
A victory by Don’t Tell Sophia would make her the first filly or mare since 2004, and only the fourth overall, to sweep the Chilukki and Falls City Handicap. Only Feasibility (1997), Lead Story (2003) and Halory Leigh (2004) have accomplished the feat.
“We’ve had some purchases that were inexpensive that worked out pretty well – but not quite this well,” Sims said of Don’t Tell Sophia. “This is very unusual. We always liked her as a 2-year-old. I said this filly is as good as or better than (Grade I winner and $998,552-earner) Hot Cha Cha. Even though she was a $1,000 purchase, she’s a nice big, strong filly and she always looked like that. She’s just nice and has a very good mind to her. I bought seven yearlings that year (2009), and the one I paid $1,000 for I thought was the best of all of them. You never know.” In addition to Fiftyshadesofhay, Don’t Tell Sophia’s main rivals include Preston Stables’ Flashy American (23-7-3-2—$407,129), the winner of the $111,400 Locust Grove at Churchill Downs in September before finishing fourth in the $250,500 Zenyatta (GI) at Santa Anita for trainer Kenny McPeek; Becky Winemiller’s Wine Princess ($12-4-5-1—$362,149), the winner of last year’s Monmouth Park Oaks (GIII) who finished third in the $500,000 Spinster (GI) before finishing second to Don’t Tell Sophia in the Chilukki for trainer Steve Margolis; Timothy Keeley’s Illinois homebred My Option (9-4-2-3—$313,405), who won the $150,000 Arlington Oaks (GIII) in July for trainer Chris Block; Janis Whitham’s homebred Magic Hour (13-4-3-1—$198,866), who defeated Don’t Tell Sophia in the $102,600 Mari Hulman George at Indiana Downs in October for trainer Ian Wilkes; and G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s homebred Ice Cream Silence (12-4-2-0—$226,393), winner of Keeneland’s $100,000 Doubledogdare.in April for trainer Rusty Arnold II.
Dale Romans, who trains Owl Moon and Molly Morgan, is a two-winner of the Falls City. In addition to training Halory Leigh, he won last year’s renewal with Afleeting Lady. Block (Dundalk Dust in 2010) and Wilkes (Miss Isella in 2008) also have saddled winners in the stakes event. Bridgmohan (Dundalk Dust), Leparoux (Serenading in 2009) and Smith (Feasibility Study) have ridden winners in the Falls City.
The stakes record is 1:48.85, which was established by John Franks’ Silent Eskimo while toting 117 pounds in 1999. The Falls City – a reference to the Ohio River falls or rapids that drop some 30 feet just west of downtown Louisville – is one of the four original stakes races that were created by Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark for the inaugural meet in 1875. The race has been run on Thanksgiving Day since 1978.
Racing on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs has been a Louisville tradition since 1969. More than 7,000 turkey dinners with all the trimmings – the largest number anywhere in the region – will be served. All indoor premium seating and dining packages are sold out. The scrumptious Thanksgiving feast – served from 10 a.m. until “Call to the Post” for the second to last race – includes roasted turkey breast with cranberry sauce and giblet gravy; country baked ham with spicy mustard and cranberry-apricot chutney; candied sweet potatoes; green bean casserole with mushrooms and fried onions; cornbread dressing; macaroni and cheese; whipped potatoes; bountiful fruit; mixed green salad; breakfast breads; and seasonal desserts.
The Falls City Handicap is the first of four graded stakes events that will be run over the final three days of Churchill Downs’ 25-day Fall Meet. The $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), headlined by Baffert’s seven-time Grade I-winner Game On Dude against the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) runner-up and Travers (GI) winner Will Take Charge, will be run on “Black Friday.” The $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and $150,000 Golden Rod (GII) highlight Saturday’s ninth annual “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, a 12-race card exclusively for 2-year-olds. Reining Horse of the Year Wise Dan, a leading contender to repeat that honor after a second straight win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), will be paraded between races on Saturday’s closing day program, as well. Additionally, Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be held Wednesday through Saturday. The 23 individual wagering interests will be announced Monday. The pool will open Nov. 27 at noon and close Saturday prior to post time for either the Remsen at Aqueduct or Kentucky Jockey Club, whichever comes first