FRANKLIN, Ky. – It’s nice to have a side gig. Chris Block has made a name for himself as a perennial top trainer in his native Illinois, but his occasional trips to the Kentucky-Tennessee border have been quite productive, too.
Since 2008, Block has netted five wins and five seconds from just 16 starts in stakes at Kentucky Downs, and he’ll be looking to pad that statistic Sunday when he saddles Captivating Moon as a lukewarm morning-line favorite for the $400,000 Dueling Grounds Derby.
“It’s been a good place for me,” said Block, who will be on hand at this turf-only track after flying Sunday morning from Chicago Midway Airport into nearby Nashville, Tenn. “I’ve always had a lot of grass horses, so it’s been a great fit. Hopefully, we can keep that positive trend going.”
Captivating Moon is one of 10 3-year-olds in the fifth Dueling Grounds Derby, which directly follows its sister race, the $300,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks, on a terrific 10-race card. Both races will be run at the once-around distance of 1 5/16 miles.
Bred and owned by Lothenbach Stables, Captivating Moon will be making his 12th career start after knocking heads with some real standouts in his division, including Gidu, Analyze It, and Maraud. The late-running colt was a creditable fifth in his last race, the Grade 1 Secretariat, over his home course at Arlington Park.
“He’s pretty honest and turf-course indifferent,” said Block, noting that Captivating Moon ran fine over a soft turf course when he dead-heated for second in the Grade 2 American Turf on Kentucky Derby Day. “He is one-dimensional, but going this distance Sunday, that might be just fine. He just gallops along, and then it takes him a few strides to get going when he tries to quicken. If he’s able to keep on trucking, he might just be able to run ‘em down Sunday.”
Florent Geroux will have the mount on Captivating Moon, and they break from post 7. One of the chief threats will start alongside in post 6: Bandua, who was relegated to an also-eligible list Saturday when entered by trainer Dermot Weld against older horses in the Kentucky Turf Cup. A two-time winner from four starts, all in Ireland for owner Calumet Farm, the gray colt was making his North American debut when he outran his nearly 40-1 odds and finished third behind Carrick and Analyze It in the Aug. 11 Secretariat.
Other major players in the derby include Channel Cat, a solid fourth two starts back in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby for Todd Pletcher; Reride, most recently fourth to his Steve Asmussen stablemate Tenfold in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga; and the uncoupled Mike Maker duo of Jailhouse Kitten and Cullum Road.
As competitive as the derby appears, the Oaks and its field of 12 3-year-old fillies probably is more so.
Pamina and Princess Warrior, the respective 2-3 finishers in the Grade 3 Pucker Up on the Arlington Million undercard, figure among the top contenders in the fourth running of the Oaks. Pamina, with Geroux riding from post 3, has earned a higher Beyer Speed Figure with each passing start for trainer Michael Dickinson and has never been worse than second in five career races.
Other considerations in a deep cast include Heavenly Love, who captured a maiden race in eye-catching fashion here last September and then won the Grade 1 Alcibiades on dirt at Keeneland; Osare, with Jose Ortiz riding for Jonathan Thomas of Catholic Boy fame; Smart Shot, a troubled ninth in the Pucker Up following back-to-back victories for Calumet and trainer Rusty Arnold; and the Maker trio of Malibu Saint, Rahway, and Sippin Kitten.
The Dueling Grounds Oaks (race 8) and Dueling Grounds Derby (race 9) anchor a Sunday card that starts at 1:25 p.m. Central. Four qualifying events (races 3-6) toward the Dec. 1 Claiming Crown, each with a $100,000 purse, also are part of a busy program.
Purses for the derby and Oaks are heavily supplemented by bonus incentives from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Between both races, all but one starter – Zero Gravity, a longshot Florida-bred in the derby – are Kentucky-breds.
Both stakes are named for what this track was called from 1990 to 1997, when it was renamed Kentucky Downs by new ownership. The property was an actual “dueling grounds” in the 1800s partly because gun duels were legal in Kentucky but not in adjacent Tennessee.
The forecast for Sunday calls for cooling temperatures and a 90 percent chance of thunderstorms as the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon continue a northward trek.
Sunday is College Day at Kentucky Downs, with two $1,500 scholarships and 10 Microsoft Surface tablet computers being raffled off to registered students throughout the day. The drawings are sponsored by the track and the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
After Sunday, only the closing-day Thursday card will remain at this five-day meet, with the $400,000 Ramsey Farm and $300,000 Franklin-Simpson serving as co-features. Churchill Downs opens its 11-day September meet Friday.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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