Hidden Class Gives Owner Atkins ‘Amazing Rush’

August 31, 2023

Hidden Class, with Joel Rosario up, wins the fillies division of the $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales allowance race (Grace Clark)

By Tim Wilkin for Kentucky Downs

FRANKLIN, Ky.— Chances are good that the bar area in Peppers Grill in Culpeper, Va. was going all kinds of crazy early Thursday afternoon.

That’s because the boss of the Grill, James Atkins, was doing some good on opening day at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

Making his first appearance at Kentucky Downs, Atkins, the co-owner of Hidden Class, got to the winner’s circle when the 2-year-old filly turned the second race into a laugher.

Trained by Joe Sharp and ridden by Joel Rosario, Hidden Class won by 3 1/4 lengths the $250,000 allowance race restricted to fillies that had been sold or gone through the ring at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Atkins, the owner of Peppers Grill and a horse owner going back to the 1970s, is partners with Erich Brehm Jr.

Atkins said this was the biggest win of his career. By far.

James Atkins at trainer Joe Sharp’s barn Wednesday morning (Jennie Rees)

“This is an amazing rush,” Atkins, accompanied by girlfriend Susan Graves, said as he left the winner’s circle. “Winning here … it’s an entirely different level.”

He might have an even bigger one coming at the end of the seven-day meet. Atkins said their plans could change after seeing Gala Brand, who beat Hidden Class in their racing debuts at Saratoga, win the Grade 3 With Anticipation against males later Thursday in New York.

“We may run back at the end of the meet in the $500,000 stakes,” said Atkins, referencing the Sept. 13 Pepsi Untapable at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Atkins, 63, estimates he has started over 1,000 horses during his career as an owner. Before Thursday, he said the biggest race he had ever won were a couple “$30-something thousand allowance races at Charles Town.

Hidden Class, a daughter of Catalina Cruiser, had debuted at Saratoga on Aug. 3 and finished second at 5 ½ furlongs on the grass. Leading up to this race, Sharp had some slight concern about the added ground, but Hidden Class squashed those worries in a hurry.

Always near the lead, Hidden Class took off in the stretch and kept finding more. 

“I knew Joel was not going to get caught because he is a finisher,” Atkins said. “When she made the lead, I said, ‘this is over!”

And it was. 

Hidden Class ran the 6 ½ furlongs in a 1:17.31 and paid $51.2, $2.90 and $2.46.

After the winner’s circle presentation, Sharp, of course, was proud of his horse. But he was also beyond happy for his owners. Brehm was also in attendance with a small entourage.

“It’s so cool when the owners come in and it makes it extra special when they are here to support her,” Sharp said. “It’s more rewarding to me than you know.”

Atkins was going to hang around for a little while Thursday, but he and Graves had to hit the road to begin the nine-hour car ride back to Virginia. There would be a stop halfway and perhaps some more celebrating.

Atkins had no doubts that the party at the Pepper Grill was going to go along for quite a while.

“I was getting calls from them before I got to the winner’s circle,” Atkins said. “Having days like this are why you get in the business.”

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