Speed reigned supreme in two of the three turf stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday, making Set Piece’s last-to-first victory in the $300,000 Wise Dan S. (G2) all the more commendable.
Wise Dan S. (G2)
Frontrunning Somelikeithotbrown was sitting pretty most of the way in the Wise Dan. After doling out splits of :24.18, :47.94, and 1:11.70 on the firm course, he extended his advantage to two lengths in midstretch.
Those watching 17-10 favorite Set Piece had to keep an eye on the back of the pack. Unhurried early by regular rider Florent Geroux, the Brad Cox trainee was still near the rear with plenty of ground to make up turning for home.
But Set Piece had the gears to maneuver through the field. Geroux steered to an inviting gap on the inside, and the Juddmonte homebred burst through to catch Somelikeithotbrown. Set Piece prevailed by a cozy half-length in a final time of 1:40.50 for 1 1/16 miles. According to Churchill publicity, he missed Kasaqui’s 2017 stakes record by a scant 0.24. The race has been held at this trip only since 2016.
“A lot of credit goes to the Juddmonte team who kept this horse in training at five years old,” Cox said. “Today he was able to get by a very good horse late. We’re very proud of him. Flo gave a great ride and saved as much ground as possible.”
“He’s a very nice horse,” Geroux said. “No matter where he comes from, inside or outside, he always seems to rally late. Turning for home, he gave me his best run. I’m very proud of this horse and I think this year is the best we’ve seen from him.”
The market nailed the superfecta. Somelikeithotbrown, the 2.30-1 second choice, had 1 1/2 lengths to spare from the 4-1 Ride a Comet in third. The 8.40-1 Field Pass, a touch overeager stalking the pacesetter, checked in fourth as the fourth choice. Next came Kentucky Ghost, Spooky Channel, Mutakatif, In Love, Hierarchy, and Super Sol.
Set Piece has now won three stakes in a row over the Matt Winn turf, following the Opening Verse S. on the April 29 “Thurby” card and the May 29 Douglas Park Overnight S.
His other U.S. stakes credits have come on the Turfway Park Tapeta, a victory in the Dec. 31 Prairie Bayou S. and a second in the March 27 Kentucky Cup Classic. Previously based in Great Britain with Hugo Palmer, Set Piece captured the 2019 Hyde S. on Kempton’s Polytrack, placed third in the Craven S. (G3), and finished a long way back in the 2000 Guineas (G1).
The British-bred gelding is by Dansili and out of the Kingmambo mare Portadora, who is also the dam of multiple Group 3-placed stakes scorer Alocasia.
War Chant S.
The $150,000 War Chant’s original field of eight was cut in half by scratches. As a result, Silverton Hill’s homebred Next ended up becoming the uncatchable speed under Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
The Wesley Ward pupil carved out moderate fractions of :24.03, :48.40, and 1:12.43, and dashed clear in the sprint for home. Widening his margin to 3 3/4 lengths at the wire, Next covered the grassy mile in 1:35.09. The 2.30-1 third choice of the quartet returned $6.60 in his first stakes win.
“I knew he was a pretty speedy horse, so the situation worked out well today being on the front end,” Velazquez said. “He seems to do his best running when he can get a lead, and he was able to get a pretty easy one today.”
“He’s a really tough horse when he’s on the front end and when he comes from behind he’s just not the same horse,” Ward observed. “I thought if he broke well and was on the front end we’d have a great shot today.”
Royal Prince, the 2.10-1 second choice, improved from last to finish best of the rest by 2 3/4 lengths. Even-money favorite Helium appeared one-paced in third, and early tracker Dyn O Mite retreated to fourth. Likely pace factor Accredit was scratched, along with El Kabong, Starrininmydreams, and In Effect.
Next was rebounding from an 11th in the May 1 American Turf (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day, when burned up in a pace war in his sophomore debut. That was his first start back from being eased across the line in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The gray had won his two prior outings, a maiden on the Kentucky Downs turf and an off-the-turf Keeneland allowance by 11 3/4 lengths. His scorecard now stands at 6-3-0-0, $199,394.
From the first crop of Not This Time, the Kentucky homebred is out of the multiple stakes-placed Awesome Again mare Bahia Beach.
G. Watts Humphrey’s homebred Navratilova had to battle back in the companion $150,000 Tepin for sophomore fillies. But the blueblood daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and Grade 1 queen Centre Court displayed the championship mettle of her namesake.
Trained by Rusty Arnold and well handled by Brian Hernandez, the 9.40-1 shot dictated terms of :24.35, :48.99, and 1:12.70. Her pace shadow, New Boss, launched a strong bid down the lane and appeared to have the upper hand. Then Navratilova came again to hold serve by a half-length, polishing off the mile in 1:35.56 and returning $20.80.
Toby Heart rallied to snatch second by a head from New Boss. Town Avenger got up for fourth, followed by Adventuring, Arm Candy, 2.80-1 favorite Invincible Gal, Bullseye Beauty, Commanders Palace, Barista, and Fairchild. Malloy and Sylvia Q were scratched.
Navratilova appreciated the stretch-out to reverse form with both Tobys Heart and New Boss, who had defeated her in sprints. Third to Tobys Heart in the April 9 Limestone Turf Sprint at Keeneland, Navratilova was a tough-beat third to Lady Edith and New Boss in the May 8 Mamzelle S. here.
“Her dam (Centre Court) was a Grade 1 winner going 1 1/16 miles,” Arnold said, “so we thought she’d like the distance today. She was sprinting in her last start, which she didn’t handle as well, but did much better today.”
“She relaxed well up front and had her ears up,” said Hernandez, who was aboard for the first time. “Down the stretch she really had to dig in to hold off those challengers. She ran well and handled the distance like we thought she could.”
Navratilova’s only previous route attempt was a sixth, after chasing next-out Breeders’ Cup winner Aunt Pearl, in the Oct. 7 Jessamine S. (G2) at Keeneland. This first stakes coup advanced her line to 5-2-0-2, $136,340.