The two most popular sports in Kentucky are basketball and of course horse racing. One of California’s top Thoroughbred training minds hopes to incorporate a little of both with one of his rising stable stars at Kentucky Downs on September 12.
The old alley oop play is one of the most exciting in basketball. A strategic positioning of teammates is usually followed by a well-timed pass and a thunderous slam dunk. The lob and perhaps the back pick are key elements as they put the dunker in great position to succeed. Once things are set in motion, a simple execution allows for the slammer to sop up that gravy and put the biscuit through the basket.
Now that we have went through some basketball 101, how does this pertain to Thoroughbred racing at Kentucky Downs?
Like most top trainers in the game, Doug O’Neill calculates the moves of his stable and puts his runners in positions to succeed. Never afraid to ship outside his Southern California base, the two-time Kentucky Derby winning conditioner sees the Runhappy Turf Sprint as an excellent spot for one of his players.
Stubbins is the high flyer that O’Neill is sending to the rim with hopes for a little slamalamdingdong all the way to the winner’s circle. There are several reasons this four-year old son of Morning Line gets his number called by his coach.
A “win and you’re in” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, this event offers an opportunity for Stubbins to win his way into a race he finished fourth in a year ago at Santa Anita. And of course the $700,000 in purse money is a nice factor as well.
“Our year end goal has always been the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and we feel like this race is a great spot for him,” says O’Neill. “The spacing is good because we think he runs better fresh. He last ran in late June at Belmont Park (Jaipur Stakes 4th place finish) and he would have a nice break until the Breeders’ Cup in early November. And that $700,000 is a pretty motivating factor as well.”
As the only European style turf track in the United States, Kentucky Downs is unique. As is the case with most tracks, some horses like it some do not. Stubbins ran a strong second in the Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes at Kentucky Downs last September and gives his team plenty of reason for optimism as they ready for this six furlong dash over the Kentucky Downs grass.
“We were very encouraged by his performance here last year,” says O’Neill. “It told us he is a horse for this course and the ownership group (McShane Racing LLC) circled this race on the calendar and said this is where we want to be next year. Now next year is here and we are super excited about the opportunity.”
After a fast closing finish behind stable mate Legends of War at these Downs last September, Stubbins exuded brilliance as he pulled off a Darrell Griffith type dunk at Keeneland in his next start. Navigating a very tough field in the grade 2 Woodford Turf Sprint, Stubbins delivered on some of the promise he had shown in practice.
“He’s always showed us signs he has a chance to be something special,” says the Michigan native. “The run at Keeneland was one of those wow races that told us he has a chance to be in the conversation as one of the best turf sprinters in the country.”
While coloring on his clipboard with X’s and O’s, O’Neill aligned another key element in what he hopes will be a crowd-pleasing play. Jockey Joel Rosario will be back in the irons for the Runhappy Turf Sprint. Rosario was the man who rode Stubbins last year at Kentucky Downs and then booted him home at Keeneland in the biggest win of his 13 race career (4-2-3).
Stubbins is coming in fresh to a track he likes with a familiar pilot, but the race outcome is not a forgone conclusion. Eleven other talented runners have their eyes on the prize as well. Defending champ Totally Boss is the morning line favorite at 9-2, but is followed closely by Bound For Nowhere, Kanthaka, and Front Run The Fed all at 5-1. Stubbins is sitting at 6-1 as he hopes to tickle some twine with a well-timed pass from his team.
“There is no doubt this is a very high quality field,” says O’Neill. “Stubbins is a very sure-footed and nimble horse which is important for this track. He has been working like a freight train and we are excited to get him in the gates.”
The Runhappy Turf Sprint is scheduled as race 11 on the biggest day of the Kentucky Downs meet. The last of five Stakes races on the day, expected post time for this grade 3 event is 5:36pm.