February 9, 2023

Yockey’s Warrior goes for repeat in Thanksgiving Handicap

Yockey's Warrior wins the Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds with jockey Miguel Mena aboard on Thursday, November 24, 2016 (c) Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography

A field of seven, including defending champion Yockey’s Warrior, has been entered for Thursday’s Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds.

The traditional Thanksgiving Day feature will be contested at six furlongs, a distance over which Yockey’s Warrior is currently 5-4-0-0. The only loss the Warrior’s Reward five-year-old shows at three-quarters on the main track came at Oaklawn Park in April 2016.

Following a poor showing on the turf at Kentucky Downs, the Al Stall Jr.-trained dark bay would go on a three-race win streak that included last year’s Thanksgiving Handicap. Yockey’s Warrior saw his winning skein snapped when eighth in the Commonwealth Stakes (G3) on April 8 at Keeneland, and has competed just once since then, taking an allowance/optional claimer back at that Lexington, Kentucky, venue on October 22.

“He really looks good right now,” said Stall, who co-owns the Kentucky-bred. “He really likes it here at the Fair Grounds. He’s on schedule, let’s put it that way, and came out great from his workout yesterday.”

Yockey’s Warrior, the 9-5 morning-line favorite, breezed a half-mile in :49.20 at Fair Grounds on Friday, and keeps jockey Miguel Mena in the saddle as he goes for a repeat win in this spot.

Among those lining up against the defending champion is 2-1 morning-line second choice Chublicious. Privately purchased recently by Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stables, the six-year-old gelding just captured the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) at Laurel Park last out on September 16. He’ll be making his first start for new trainer Ron Faucheux here.

“The timing of this race is perfect for him,” Faucheux said. “We haven’t trained him too hard and he’s really fit right now. His two works over this track have been great. I know Yockey’s Warrior is a really nice horse and will be hard to beat, but I’m confident we’ll show up.”

Chublicious will be making his Fair Grounds debut under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. in the Thanksgiving Handicap. Up to this point the New Jersey-bred has spent his career in the Northeast.

“He’s really blossomed since he got to the Fair Grounds,” Faucheux noted. “I got him a couple weeks after the De Francis Dash. Right now his color is the best he’s been since I’ve had him and he seems to be feeling better than he has since I got him. He is peaking at the right time. He carries good energy and is race-ready, which is nice to see since he ran a big race last time.”

Completing the field for the Thanksgiving Handicap are Grade 3-placed Wyeth, stakes runner-up Blue Wings, Charming Deputy and Mesoma. The Truth or Else was also entered in the race, but the Kenny McPeek charge finished fourth in Saturday’s Bet on Sunshine Stakes at Churchill Downs.