Pride of Owensboro, Johnny Unleashed one to catch in Ellis Park’s Preview Turf Sprint

August 6, 2021

Hold the date! D. Wayne and Dale: A Conversation

Saturday, Aug. 14, 11 a.m. CT in the Ellis Park beer-garden pavilion

Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind fan and media experience where legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas and classic-winning trainer Dale Romans join up in conversation, story-telling and asking each other questions before a live audience. The public also can ask questions and get autographs and take pictures afterward. This free event begins at 11 a.m. CT. Bring the family!


Johnny Unleashed one to catch in Preview Turf Sprint

‘He runs so fast that he just runs out of gas,’ Eric Foster says

HENDERSON, Ky. (Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021) — The 4-year-old gelding Johnny Unleashed was so named because he’s a son of the stallion Colonel John and the mare Ready to Unleash. But the name proved prophetic. Because when this Johnny is unleashed, he flies – at least until he runs out of gas.

So Johnny Unleashed will be among the horses to catch in Saturday’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Turf Sprint on the opening day of Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park. Whether he can keep going right into the winner’s circle is an open question. However, Ellis Park-based trainer and co-owner Eric Foster thinks Johnny Unleashed is a better horse than his 15-1 morning-line odds might suggest. 

“I hope so,” he said, adding of last year’s sixth place over extremely soft turf when Johnny Unleashed took on older horses in the stakes, “I think he’s smarter. He’s doing well. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at predicting. My gambling isn’t that great.”

The winner of the Preview Turf Sprint earns a fees-paid spot in Kentucky Downs’ $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint, a Grade 3 stakes on Sept. 11 whose winner in turn earns a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar.

Win or lose, Johnny is likely to have the largest crowd following, with seemingly half of Owensboro showing up whenever Foster Family Racing runs a horse at Ellis Park. In addition to the partnership of the trainer’s family and their friends, the $10,000 Keeneland yearling purchase is owned by Lonnie Reynolds, H&H Horses and Joseph Mills.

“Johnny will have more fans, hands down, than anybody that runs at Ellis Park this year. I’ll bet on that!” Foster said with a laugh. “You’d be surprised the people who follow Johnny. We’ve got an owner who was the underbidder on Johnny at the Keeneland sale the day we bought him. Now we have five or six horses for him. Just because of Johnny. He was watching Johnny and got ahold of us. Johnny’s been pretty good to us.

“… He’s ready. He definitely likes his job, so I feel like he’s going to give us what he’s got. He just wants to go so fast. I think he’s so happy, he runs so fast that he just runs out of gas.”

In last year’s Turf Sprint as a 3-year-old, Johnny pushed a torrid past over the very soft turf before weakening to sixth, while beaten only 4 1/2 lengths for everything. That was the only prior race over the Ellis turf for Johnny Unleashed, who two years ago won a maiden race by almost eight lengths over the Ellis dirt. The $10,000 yearling purchase’s four wins and $175,791 in purse earnings are evenly split between dirt and turf.

Like so many turf sprinters, the main thing is getting a clean trip, Foster said, describing many of the races as “fist fights.”

“Get a good break, and give him a fair shot,” he said. “I definitely think he could win it. It’s a pretty even race. In a 5 1/2 (furlong) race, you don’t have to guess what everybody else is going to do.”

Indeed, 3-1 program favorite My Boanerges, a Remington Park invader who from post 6 breaks to the immediate outside of Johnny Unleashed, is likely to be in lock step with Foster’s horse. The key to the race well could be how fast they go. If they wing-ding along on the front end, it could set up the race for any number of horses in a field well-stocked with stalkers and closers. But if they can slow it down to, say, 22 seconds flat for the first quarter-mile? Then at least one of them could keep going, with speed typically faring well over a course that figures to be very firm after a week of sunshine.

“Last year it was really muddy, so it’s hard to gauge how your horse likes that turf,” Foster said. “It’s not like Keeneland or Churchill turf, so I don’t know how to gauge it.

“He doesn’t ship well. That’s one thing I like about running here. He’s won out of that stall.”

At Ellis Park he’ll be reunited with jockey Tommy Pompell, who is 2-for-2 on the gelding while taking a pair of Indiana Grand allowance races.

In prior two starts, Johnny Unleashed finished a creditable fourth in Churchill Downs’ Mighty Beau Stakes and a close sixth in the Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint. He led until very late in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Shakertown, captured by Grade 1 winner Bound for Nowhere.

“He’s just right there,” Foster said. “I think he can break through. The race at Keeneland, Bound for Nowhere outrun him. I mean, c’mon — that horse is a millionaire. Both times at Churchill, he’s got little excuses. But you only have to have a little reason in a sprint race. It doesn’t take anything to take you out of your race.”

You like Ellis Park’s Saturday’s card? Sunday is even better!

Sunday features another stakes quartet, the conclusion of Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend showcasing four turf stakes that serve as launching pads to Kentucky Downs’ meet in September. Here’s a quick look:

$100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Mint Million

6th race, 3:10 p.m. CT

The Brad Cox-trained Hieronymus, a three-time stakes-winner on turf, is the one to beat in the field of seven older horses running a mile. The 5-for-9 Hieronymus comes in off victory in Canterbury Park’s Mystic Lake Mile, in which he beat Preview Mint Million contender and nine-time winner Tut’s Revenge. Hay Dakota, a 10-time winner, was ninth in this race last year but hated the soft turf. He comes in off of a sparkling workout at Ellis Park for the always-dangerous Mike Maker. Necker Island, third in last year’s Ellis Park Derby, makes his grass debut and could be the one to beat if he likes the turf as much as he seemed to in a recent workout.

$100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Ladies Sprint

7th race, 3:40 p.m. CT

This shapes up as a terrific betting race with a capacity field of 12, plus an also-eligible, entered for fillies and mares running 5 1/2 furlongs. The Greg Foley-trained Yes It’s Ginger, whose many owners include Henderson’s popular beer and wine wholesaler Mike Utley, is the likely favorite off of her four-length stakes victory at Lone Star Park in her last start. Foley also entered Skinny Dip, who won an off-the-turf allowance race at Ellis Park in her last start and would finally be getting a chance to run on grass. Both horses were cross-entered in Wednesday’s $65,000 IU Hoosiers Stakes at five-eighths of a mile at Indiana Grand. Elle Z is definitely the one to catch. The speedster, a stakes-winner on turf or dirt, is 6 for 12 and either goes wire-to-wire or is pretty much nowhere. Amazima was fourth in last year’s Ladies Mile.

$100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Ladies Mile

8th race, 4:10 p.m. CT

English Affair will try to reclaim the mojo that saw her win this race in 2020. She won’t get the soft turf she relished — or others simply hated — in 2020, but she also broke her maiden and was second in the 2018 Ladies Sprint over firm Ellis turf. After being drubbed in a pair of 1 1/2-mile races this year, English Affair shortens back up in distance. Still, she’s facing horses in better form, including Ellis Park Turf Stakes winner She’sonthewarpath and runner-up Dominga. The Ellis Park Turf favorite, Dominga found herself on a lead she didn’t want that day after breaking on the rail, and should benefit from having a fair amount of speed to her inside in the field of 11 fillies and mares. Nope also comes back after finishing sixth in the Ellis Park Turf. Princess Causeway comes off a good second in the Lady Canterbury in her only start this year. She was fifth in last year’s Preview Ladies Mile.

$125,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Turf Cup

9th race, 4:40 p.m. CT

Spooky Channel, a Grade 3 winner claimed by Evansville product Jason Barkley three races ago for $80,000, drops out of graded-stakes company. That includes running a close sixth in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Wise Dan, in which Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez dropped his stick in the stretch. Hierarchy was second in last year’s race by only a half-length to the accomplished Factor This. The Maker-trained Tide of the Sea won Gulfstream Park’s Grade 3 McKnight earlier this year and should be part of the pace. He’ll also get the firm turf he desires. Trainer Brendan Walsh entered the 4-year-old filly Family Way, wanting to get the Preview Turf Cup’s 1 1/4-mile distance. Strong Tide finished third behind the talented Arklow and Red Knight in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Louisville Stakes. Henley’s Joy, a product of Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program, is a millionaire thanks to winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby in 2019. He also seeks to end an 0-for-14 streak since. It would be a dramatic conclusion if Henley’s Joy would become the horse that gave Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen the all-time North American win lead (he’s two wins from tying the late Dale Baird’s 9,445 victories).


Hotdog! Yes It’s Ginger puts Mike Utley on ride of a lifetime

Cox horses work for Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend

2021 RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park

Dates: Sunday June 27 through Saturday Sept. 4. Racing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Post time: 12:50 p.m. Central

Admission: General admission is free. Tickets for Clubhouse and Sky Theatre dining and grandstand boxes can be purchased at or by calling 812-435-8918.

Remaining stakes schedule

Saturday Aug. 7 —$100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs (turf). Sunday Aug. 8 — $125,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint, fillies & mares 3 years olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, one mile (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Mint Million Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile (turf). Sunday Aug. 15 — $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles; $125,000 RUNHAPPY Groupie Doll, fillies & mares, 3 years old and up, mile; $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs; $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Debutante, 2-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs; $100,000 Audubon Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs.

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