Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred Lea, winner of last year’s Commonwealth Turf (Grade III), will take on Horse of the Year Wise Dan
and six other rivals in Saturday’s 23rd running of the $150,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs.
The Firecracker Handicap for
3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course is one of
three stakes races on Saturday’s “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella
Artois and Finlandia Vodka” racing program. Post time
for the first of 11 races is 6 p.m. (all times Eastern) and the
Firecracker is scheduled as Race 9 at 10:11 p.m.
Wise Dan is the 128-pound high weight for the Firecracker and Lea is the co-second high weight with Corporate Jungle at 117 pounds.
“We picked this race in November to set us up for the rest of the year,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “It was part of our schedule all along. We didn’t expect to face the Horse of the Year. When the weights came out,
we felt like 11 pounds was enough to give it a whirl.”
Lea made his 2013 debut on June 1 and won an off-the-turf allowance/optional-claiming race at Churchill Downs by 3 ¼ lengths.
“We’re only in our second race of the
year with him, so this shouldn’t be his best race,” Stall said. “If he
can compete with Wise Dan in his second start of the year then that
would give us a lot of confidence for the rest
of the year.”
Lea raced very close to the pace in
his seasonal debut and Stall said he expects the 4-year-old chestnut to
be forwardly placed again.
“He likes to lay close,” Stall said. “I think the horse on the outside (Ol Army) under Jon Court will probably go to the lead. I think we’ll be behind him and checking him out.”
Stall said Lea likely will be a part of the string he will take to Saratoga this summer.
“If he runs well Saturday, then we’ll probably take a long look at the Fourstardave (GII on Aug. 10).”