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Four G1 winners in Lukas Classic

Stakes advances by Churchill Downs’ publicity department (Coady Photography photo of Rich Strike winning the 2022 Kentucky Derby)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022) – Top Grade I-winning older horses Art CollectorHot Rod Charlie and Happy Saver will clash with Kentucky Derby 148 hero Rich Strike in a stellar ninth renewal of the $500,000 Lukas Classic (Grade II) on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

          Named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic will go as Race 10 of 11 with a post time of 5:26 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Lukas Classic co-headlines Saturday’s program along with the $300,000 Ack Ack (GIII), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Dirt Mile Division” race that will go as Race 9 at 4:55 p.m. The first race of the day is 12:45 p.m.

          Overall, the six entrants in this year’s Lukas Classic have amassed 30 wins with combined purse earnings of more than $12.4 million. The race annually serves as a steppingstone to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to be held this year Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

          Derby winners returning to Churchill Downs have been rare in recent decades. Mandaloun, promoted to first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, finished fourth in this year’s Stephen Foster (GII). In 2018, the previous year’s Derby winner Always Dreaming concluded his career with a fifth-place finish in the Alysheba (GII). Mine That Bird, the 2009 upset winner, tried turf in the 2010 Firecracker (GII) but finished eighth. Giacomo, another big-price Derby winner in 2005, ran fourth in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs. 

          A victory by RED-TR Racing’s Rich Strike in the Lukas Classic would make him the first Kentucky Derby winner to return to Churchill Downs and win since Silver Charm. The 1997 Derby winner took the 1998 Clark Handicap (GII) beneath the Twin Spires after runner-up finishes to Awesome Again in that year’s renewals of both the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).

          Rich Strike, the son of Keen Ice who scored an 80-1 shocking upset in the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) in May, finished an enigmatic sixth in this year’s Belmont Stakes (GI) but rebounded with a respectable fourth in the Travers (GI) behindEpicenterCyberknife and Zandon. Trained by Eric Reed, Rich Strike is a perfect 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. His regular rider Sonny Leon, now based in south Florida, will be in the saddle from post No. 4.

The top earner in this year’s Lukas Classic is Hot Rod Charlie. Campaigned by Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm), Boat Racing (Patrick O’Neill), William Strass and Gainesway Thoroughbreds (Anthony Beck) and trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie has earned a stout $5,251,200 with four victories from 17 starts. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow finished third behind Life is Good and Happy Saver in the $1 million Whitney (GI). Previously, Hot Rod Charlie finished second by 1 ¾ lengths to Country Grammer in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (GI).

          As a 3-year-old, Hot Rod Charlie was one of the country’s top sophomores. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) and won the Pennsylvania Derby (GI). In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hot Rod Charlie was defeated just 4 ½ lengths by last year’s Lukas Classic winner Knicks Go. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the call in the Lukas Classic and will break from post 5.

          One of the other top contenders in the Lukas Classic is Bruce Lunsford’s recent $1 million Charles Town Classic (GII) winner Art Collector. Trained by Bill Mott, Art Collector cruised to a 4 ¼-length victory in the Charles Town Classic as the heavy 1-2 favorite.

Previously, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini was the 1 ½-length victor of last year’s Woodward Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park. The Lukas Classic will be Art Collectors fourth start of his 2022 campaign. In February, Art Collector finished 12th in the $20 million Saudi Cup (GI). Mott brought Art Collector back to the races in early August where he defended his title in the Alydar Stakes. Jockey Luis Saez will be in town to ride from post 2.

The aforementioned Happy Saver will attempt to get his revenge from the Whitney on Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic. Owned by Wertheimer and Frere (Alain and Gerard Wertheimer) and trained by Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver has finished second in his last five outings – the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Clark (GI) and this year’s Alysheba (GII), Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and the Whitney.

          A 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Happy Saver won the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) as a 3-year-old. Overall, the talented chestnut sports a record of 11-5-5-1 with $1,173,300 in purse earnings.

          Happy Saver will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 3.

          The Lukas Classic field is rounded out by Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm’s three-time stakes winner King Fury and the Estate of James Coleman Jr.’s five-time winner Chess Chief.

Here is the complete field from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): King Fury (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek); Art Collector (Saez, Mott); Happy Saver (Velazquez, Pletcher); Rich Strike (Leon, Reed); Hot Rod Charlie (Gaffalione, O’Neill); and Chess Chief (Rey Gutierrez, Dallas Stewart).

GRADE I WINNER SPEAKER’S CORNER HEADS GRADE III, $300,000 ACK ACK – Godolphin’s Speaker’s Corner, a Grade I winner in this year’s Carter Handicap (GI), tops a competitive field of 10 older horses that were entered in Saturday’s 30th running of the $300,000 Ack Ack (GIII) at Churchill Downs.

          The one-mile Ack Ack is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI). The winning horse will receive an entry-fees paid berth to the Nov. 5 race at Keeneland along with a travel stipend if the winning horse is based outside of Kentucky.

          The Ack Ack was carded as Race 9 of 11 with a post time of 4:55 p.m. (all times Eastern). The race will share the Saturday spotlight with the $500,000 Lukas Classic (GIII), which will go as Race 10 at 5:26 p.m. The first race is 12:45 p.m.

          Trained by Bill Mott, Speaker’s Corner arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning from his main base at Saratoga Race Course. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense is a three-time graded stakes winner. He previously won the Fred Hooper (GIII) and Gulfstream Park Mile (GII) earlier this year. Three starts ago, Speaker’s Corner finished third to the world’s top-rated horse,Flightline, in the Metroplitan Handicap. In his last start, Speaker’s Corner was the even-money favorite in the Pat O’Brien (GII) but faded to fourth after dueling on the pace in the early stages of the Aug. 27 race. Junior Alvarado will have the mount in the Ack Ack and will break from the rail.

          Other accomplished horses that entered the Ack Ack include Juddmonte’s three-time Grade III winner FulsomeJoe Peacock’s 2020 Springboard Mile winner Senor BuscadorEd and Susie Orr’s Grade III winner Silver ProspectorDavid Miller’s Knicks Go winner Three TechniqueCarl Moore Management’s Fort Larned Stakes winner Twilight Blue; and Team Valor International’s multiple graded stakes placed Untreated.

          Here is the Ack Ack field from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): Speaker’s Corner (Alvarado, Mott); Untreated (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher); Fulsome (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox); Surly Furious (Luis Saez, Glenn Wismer); Three Technique (Rafael Bejarano, Jason Cook); Silver Prospector (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen); Injunction (Gerardo Corrales, Carlo Vaccarezza); Senor Buscador (Francisco Arrieta, Todd Fincher); Mailman Money (Gabe Saez, Bret Calhoun); and Twilight Blue (Brian Hernandez Jr., Joe Sharp).

          The Ack Ack Stakes is named after the 1971 Horse of the Year. That same year, Ack Ackalso received championship honors as Champion Older Horse and Champion Sprinter. As a 3-year-old, Ack Ack won the 1969 Derby Trial – his lone start at Churchill Downs – in 1:34.40, which was a track record at the time for the one-mile distance.

DOWN THE STRETCH – Racing continued Wednesday at Churchill Downs with a first post of 12:45 p.m. There was a $13,949 carryover in the 20-cent Derby City 6 jackpot that began in Race 4. … Jockey Florent Geroux and agent Doug Bredar have split after 13 years together. Geroux will be represented by John Panagot after this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships. … Jockey Adam Beschizza has hired a new agent. He’ll now be represented by Joe Paulley. Beschizza was previously represented by Liz Morris. … Jockey Tyler Gaffalione served a one-day suspension Wednesday for a whip violation. He’s scheduled to return Thursday. … “Inside Churchill Downs” will air Friday and preview Saturday’s Lukas Classic (GII) and Ack Ack Stakes (GIII). The one-hour program will air on ESPN 680/105.7 and stream live on the station’s website at www.espnlouisville.com. … For more information about the Churchill Downs September Meet, visit www.churchilldowns.com

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.