January 29, 2022

Awesome Slew, Honorable Duty win Churchill stakes

Awesome Slew will try to use the Ack Ack (G3) as a springboard to success in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) (c) Coady Photo

With an outstanding win in Saturday’s $100,000 Ack Ack (G3), Awesome Slew confirmed himself as a prime contender for the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar. The classy middle-distance specialist collared a game The Player in midstretch and edged away to a one-length decision in the one-mile test at Churchill Downs, stopping the teletimer in 1:35.02.

Owned and bred by Live Oak Plantation, the Mark Casse-trained winner had the services of leading rider Corey Lanerie.

The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again notched his second graded stakes tally of the year and third overall. He’s placed in five additional stakes this season, exiting a pair of runner-up finishes to Mind Your Biscuits and Drefong in the Belmont Sprint (G2) and Forego (G1).

“The goal for this spot was to give him an easier race,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “He’s been facing some of the best sprinters in the country so he needed to build his confidence back up. He did everything well today and the distance was perfect. There’s still some discussion to be had but right now we’ll point towards the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.”

“We found a good spot early behind horses,” Lanerie added. “I could see the leaders dueling and wanted to get in position on the outside to set me up for a late run. Turning for home I had a ton of horse under me. I just want to thank the Casse team for letting me ride this one. They did a great job to get him ready today.”

Favored at 3-5 among nine rivals, the Florida-bred colt pushed his earnings to $952,940 from a 16-5-4-3 ledger. Awesome Slew is out of the stakes-winning Seeking the Gold mare Slewfoundmoney.

The Player gave a fine account of himself in his second graded attempt, finishing 9 ¼ lengths clear of third-placer Pinson. The 4-year-old colt appears to be rounding into top form but Ian Wilkes nixed the idea of the shipping west when asked about proceeding to the Dirt Mile.

“No. That horse (Awesome Slew) outran him,” the trainer said. “Calvin (Borel) rode him beautifully, got him to the top of the stretch and tried to get away from that horse, but that horse ran him down. He’s just a very nice horse. But we’re very proud of The Player. We thought he ran awesome. He’s been fun. He was running – they both were running.”

Two other stakes were offered under the Twin Spires and Honorable Duty treated racing fans to a dominant performance in the $200,000 Lukas Classic (G3), leading wire-to-wire beneath Lanerie. The 5-year-old gelding returned from a three-month freshening and surprisingly seized the initiative leaving the starting gate, establishing moderate splits on a short lead along the rail.

The field bunched up alongside him turning for home but Lanerie had plenty of horse left and Honorable Duty responded when called upon, drawing away splendidly in the final furlongs to win by nearly five lengths. Brendan Walsh trains the son of Distorted Humor for DARRS Inc.

Last seen finishing a non-threatening second to Gun Runner in the Stephen Foster (G1), Honorable Duty was off as 3-5 favorite and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.42. Money Flows edged Seeking the Soul by a head for second.

Bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte Farms, Honorable Duty is out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Mesmeric, a daughter of Broodmare of the Year Toussaud, who counts Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Empire Maker among a trio of Grade 1-winning offspring.

Honorable Duty notched three straight stakes at Fair Grounds over the winter, including the New Orleans (G2) and Mineshaft (G3), and he increased his bankroll to $795,796 from a 15-7-4-1 record.

“He ran such a great race today,” Walsh said. “We had a pretty tough spring campaign with him so after the Stephen Foster we gave him some time off to focus on the fall campaign.”

His next targets could be the $200,000 Fayette (G2) at Keeneland on October 28 and the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 24.

Saturday’s stakes action kicked off with $100,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds and Mr. Misunderstood continues to enhance his turf reputation posting a 2 3/4-length decision. Now 6-for-6 on turf, the Brad Cox-trained gelding registered his third straight convincing stakes win after taking the Super Derby and Prelude at Louisiana Downs. Florent Geroux was up.

Favored at even-money among eight rivals, the dark bay son of Archarcharch stalked in midpack during the early stages and began to pick up the leaders rounding the far turn. He overhauled stablemate Adonis Creed in midstretch and finished up the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.78 on firm turf.

Owned by Flurry Racing Stables, Mr. Misunderstood competed in the claiming ranks as recently as late February and has improved significantly since the spring, winning his sixth race from the last seven attempts. He’s now bankrolled $304,554 from a 11-7-1-0 mark.

“This horse really loves the grass,” Geroux said. “I’m grateful to be able to ride him again. The pace was pretty slow early and he bobbled a couple of times on the backstretch and didn’t really get over the ground that well. I asked him a little bit to keep him in the race and he responded perfectly.”