Faced with a dilemma on next Sunday’s running of the Grade 3, $400,000 Matt Winn Stakes, Ben Huffman did not hesitate Saturday about whether the race would be shortened or lengthened to fit Ellis Park.
“It’s going to be a mile-and-an-eighth,” said Huffman, the vice president of racing for Churchill Downs Inc. “If you look at the PPs, those are two-turn horses.”
The Matt Winn, a race for 3-year-olds, has been run the last 12 years at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, where racing will be suspended after this weekend. Ellis Park will pick up the spring-summer meet next weekend, and its 1 1/8-mile main track does not provide a good fit for 8 1/2-furlong races.
Faced with running either a 1 1/2-turn race out of the mile chute or going two turns around the one full lap at Ellis, Huffman said it was an easy call.
“We looked at the nominations, and most of them look like mile-and-an-eighth horses,” he said. “If they all looked like sprinters, we might have looked at a mile. But these horses want to go two turns.”
Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up King Russell, who finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby, is likely to go there, his trainer said Saturday.
“At 1 1/8 I would definitely be running there next,” Ron Moquett said in a text message. “At a mile out of that funky chute, I would point elsewhere. I do love the unique, one-mile distance configuration at Ellis, (but) not at all for this horse.”
Blue Grass (G1) runner-up Verifying also could be in the mix, according to his trainer Brad Cox.
“That was our plan when it was going to be a mile-and-a-sixteenth,” Cox said. “I’ve got to do some homework on it.”
Denington, who finished third May 20 in the Sir Barton Stakes, could be a Matt Winn starter, according to trainer Kenny McPeek.
“I’m leaning toward running Denington, but I want to see the probables,” McPeek said. “He’s a horse who’s been a little bit of a notch below. We’ll take a look at it.”
Two Phil’s, who finished second to Mage last month in the Kentucky Derby, was mentioned as a candidate for the Matt Winn under its original conditions.
“Slim chance but possible,” trainer Larry Rivelli said Saturday. He also mentioned the June 24 running of the Ohio Derby (G3) as a potential next stop for Two Phil’s.
The Matt Winn is scheduled to be drawn Thursday.
After 12 horses died between April 27 and May 27 and under pressure from the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Churchill Downs executives decided Friday to move the last four weeks of the track’s current meet to Ellis Park two hours west of Louisville in Henderson, Ky.