It was a tough day for horses to make up ground against the leaders in the homestretch Saturday at Churchill Downs. That was until Rattle N Roll broke through in the 10th race, the Grade 3, $225,000 Blame Stakes.
“That’s how it goes,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. said. “I rode the right one today.”
Bumped into the rail and trailing by three lengths with a furlong to go, Rattle N Roll (8-5) powered his way to a 1 1/4-length victory, his third in a row, all against Grade 3 competition. It was one of the highlights on the first full day of racing since Churchill Downs responded to 12 recent horse deaths by moving the rest of the meet after this weekend to Ellis Park in Western Kentucky.
2023 Blame Stakes (G3) - Churchill Downs pic.twitter.com/LThy0c7oVc— Carlitos Solorzano (@carlosimbatible) June 3, 2023
A 4-year-old Connect colt who cost $210,000 as a yearling, Rattle N Roll was the first winner on the main track Saturday who was more than 1 1/2 lengths off the lead at the stretch call.
Closing might not have been a winning style most of the day, but that has been a successful M.O. for a horse who is 18: 8-1-2 with earnings totaling $1,501,141. Rallying was the plan. Getting smacked into the rail by fading pacesetter Barber Road (18-1) was not.
“There was a little bumper cars there late,” winning trainer Kenny McPeek said. “That had me a little nervous. But he’s such a solid horse. Physically, he’s just an easy horse to be around. He likes this racetrack.”
He also seems to like keeping busy. Rattle N Roll raced only 15 days ago, winning by the bob of his nose in the Pimlico Special (G3) on Black-Eyed Susan day in Baltimore.
“It was a little controversial coming back in a couple of weeks,” said McPeek, who is not shy about doing that with horses he believes are fit and ready. “The Triple Crown campaign, we come back in a couple of weeks from the Derby to the Preakness. But he’s exceptional, and we’re proud of him.”
Conceding 3 1/2 lengths of early ground in the 1 1/8-mile race on the sunbaked dirt, Rattle N Roll stayed within striking distance of Barber Road’s pedestrian fractions of 23.98, 48.35 and 1:12.19. After he got caught between the rock of Barber Road and the hard place of the inner rail, the colt owned by the Macklin family’s Lucky Seven Stable squeezed through and found himself going head to head with a familiar rival. Call Me Fast (9-2) had closed from seventh in the field of eight to take a late lead, getting the mile in 1:36.64.
As was the case in the Ben Ali (G3) on April 22 at Keeneland, Call Me Fast came up short against Rattle N Roll.
“We made a nice move,” Call Me Fast’s jockey Julien Leparoux said. “Last time at Keeneland, I thought if I could have gotten the jump on him, I could have beaten him. I tried to get the jump today, but he still beat us.”
Call Me Fast placed second. Happy American (14-1) closed from last to take third, two lengths behind the winner. Barber Road wound up fourth.
Rattle N Roll’s winning time was 1:48.93. He paid $5.48, $3.18 and $2.66; Call Me Fast $4.44 and $4.12; and Happy American $5.48.
The victory teased a potential but unlikely to happen showdown with stablemate and fellow millionaire Smile Happy, who won last month at Churchill Downs in the Alysheba (G2) on Kentucky Oaks day and who also is owned by the Macklins. In normal times, their duel would have been the stuff of dreams on the very same track next month in the Stephen Foster (G1). But that July 1 race has been moved from under the twin spires to the country track that surrounds a pea patch.
McPeek still paid lip service to giving one colt or the other his Stephen Foster date, even if it means a two-hour drive to get there.
“We’ll nominate (Rattle N Roll) and Smile Happy, both, just in case,” McPeek said. “Who knows? A lot can happen in this game. It’s a high-level problem.”
As for the track playing to homestretch speed most of the day, there were thoughts that it might have been deepened to make it safer. Indeed, there were no apparent casualties Saturday or, in fact, in the past seven days, the longest clean run since late April.
Those whispers never became full-throated shouts from connections who returned to the makeshift winner’s circle and paddock that were moved past the first turn because of ongoing construction on the Churchill Downs front side.
“I feel like the track is in good shape,” said jockey Florent Géroux, who rode to a pair of Grade 3 wins Saturday for trainer Brad Cox. “But you know they’re going to make some more tests next week and try to figure out what’s happened. It looks like everybody’s doing a good job. We’re working together.”