With New York making its riders race only at Saratoga, Julien Leparoux has picked up the mount on the classy turf sprinter Morticia in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint on Aug. 2 at Ellis Park, trainer Rusty Arnold said. Morticia’s regular rider is Tyler Gaffalione, who rides at Saratoga.
In its third year, Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Day features five $100,000 turf stakes that are positioned as launching pads to even bigger-money races at Kentucky Downs. Arnold also plans to run Calumet Farm’s English Affair in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, a race in which she was second in 2018.
Arnold might have had a third Preview Day starter, but Totally Boss ran so big in losing last Saturday’s Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland by a nose that he won’t be back to defend his victory in last year’s $100,000 RUNHAPPY Preview Turf Sprint. Instead, Arnold, who still won the Shakertown with Leinster, will train Totally Boss up to the $700,000, Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 12. Totally Boss also won that race last year.
Morticia actually made her career debut at Ellis Park, back on July 15, 2016, finishing sixth in a sprint that came off the turf. She’s only run on grass since, finishing in the top three in 22 of 27 races, including 10 wins and more than $1 million in purse earnings. That includes capturing last year’s $500,000, Grade 3 Spendthrift Farm Ladies Sprint at Kentucky Downs.
Now 6, Morticia was going to be retired after finishing second in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County won by the imposing Oleksandra last fall. Arnold, who co-bred Morticia with owner and Humphrey, convinced the owner to race her another season.
“I pushed for it, to tell you the truth. I hope I haven’t screwed up. But I went to the Breeders’ Cup. I watched Blue Prize win at 6; I watched Belvoir Bay win at 6,” Arnold said, pointing to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Turf Sprint winners. “I just said, ‘There’s a lot of money here. She won the big race at Kentucky Downs, ran second to Oleksandra. We looked at it and said, ‘Let’s run another year.’ Who knew the pandemic was going to hit? Who knew she wouldn’t get to run the entire winter? Who knew she wouldn’t run in April?
“I think I messed her up after her first race,” Arnold said, referencing a close fourth-place finish in a May 28 Churchill Downs allowance race. “I ran a ‘short’ horse. I’d quit training her (seriously) in Florida. She kind of gutted herself. We had so few options that I ran her back pretty quick, and it didn’t work.” That being an eighth-place finish three weeks later.
“Now I’m going to sit back and make my plan,” he said. “She’ll run Aug. 2 at Ellis Park and she’ll run in September at Kentucky Downs. If she were to win that one, she may go on. And if she doesn’t, she’ll probably be retired again, and I messed up a year. But I’m not giving up on this year over those first two races.”
English Affair earned her first victory at Ellis Park back in 2017. Arnold said the mile Preview Ladies Turf probably is too short for her but that the Ellis race is a good spot. Now 6, English Affair will be making her fourth start after being off for 11 months with an injury.
“It’s kind of been her pattern to run herself back into form, and she should be good for the rest of the year,” Arnold said.
Arnold is staying home with his entire stable at his Keeneland base, marking the first time since 1985 that he hasn’t been at Saratoga in upstate New York.
“I looked at it on paper, and it just didn’t make sense,” he said.
So any Arnold-trained 2-year-olds ready to run in July or August likely will show up at Ellis Park.
“I’m a little bit late with them,” he said. “I made probably the mistake of not picking them up and bringing them to Florida when I didn’t get out of there and couldn’t come into Keeneland. I didn’t know if or when Churchill Downs was going to run. Like everybody else, I just didn’t know what to do and left all my babies on the farm and didn’t pick them up until mid-May. They should be catching up at Ellis…. The money (for maidens) is much better than I thought it was going to be. A lot of good horses come out of there. I have no issues running there. I like it there.”