Steal Sunshine Wins Ellis Park Derby, Last Leaf Takes Audubon Oaks, Three Others Shine In Stakes On Signature Day At The Pea Patch

By VidHorse

If his last couple starts are any indication, Steal Sunshine is most comfortable when operating in the shadow of others.

The son of Constitution may not have gotten the level of pre-race chatter inspired by some of his rivals in the $200,000 Runhappy Ellis Park Derby on Sunday, but when it came time for the real running, the dark bay colt made it impossible to ignore his presence. Under steady handling from jockey Leonel Reyes, Steal Sunshine uncorked a last-to-first rally to earn a 3 ¼-length victory in the signature race on the top day of stakes at the Henderson, Kentucky track’s 100th anniversary meet.

The Ellis Park Derby was one of five stakes on the Sunday card at the Pea Patch.

The sight of Steal Sunshine making a winning charge has become commonplace of late for the Bobby Dibona-trained colt. After halting a four-race losing skid with a victory at Gulfstream Park on May 26, Steal Sunshine upset heavily favored Strike Hard with another last to first run in the seven-furlong Carry Back Stakes on July 9.

“I’m not surprised at all. I wouldn’t be here if I was surprised,” Dibona said after his charge notched his third straight win Sunday. “He’s just a great horse. From Day One, I thought he was a special horse and he’s developing and learning the game and relaxing. He’s getting better and better.”

The incremental progress Steal Sunshine has been making took another step forward in his first start outside of Florida.

With pacesetter and 57-1 shot Rome taking the nine-horse field through fractions of :22.94 and :46.01, Steal Sunshine was content to set up shop at the back of the pack under Reyes. The 5-1 shot worked his way up to sixth around the far turn and, after advancing in the two path, Steal Sunshine angled in on the rail for his stretch run, blowing past Rome and hitting the wire in a final time of 1:38.19 for the eight-furlong distance over a track rated fast.

“When he hit the hole in the stetch, he ran all the way to the wire,” Reyes said. “I’m so happy because this is my first time at Ellis Park.”

Rome held for second after his front-end exploits with Strava a neck back in third. Race favorite Top of the Charts faded to eighth after prompting the early pace.

“Yesterday we had a City of Light win at Saratoga then….we had (Top Recruit) today win the Juvenile and now this,” said Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall, who bred and co-owns Steal Sunshine along with Little Red Feather Racing. “I hope I live a long life because I’m going to enjoy every minute.”

Brogden’s Machmer Hall bred Steal Sunshine in Kentucky out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Warm Sunshine. With Sunday’s win, he improves his record to four wins from nine starts with $233,910 in earnings.

Last Leaf Takes Audubon Oaks For Third Straight Win

In her first start outside of Gulfstream Park, Last Leaf continued to produce the kind of her effort that has spoiled her connections during her sophomore campaign as she took command in the final furlong en route to capturing the $100,000 Runhappy Audubon Oaks for her third straight stakes victory.

Trained by Ronald Spatz for owners Monarch Stables, Inc., the Not This Time filly has gotten good and stayed that way after beginning her 2022 season with a trio of losses. Following a fourth-place finish in the Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on March 5, Last Leaf wheeled back to take the Melody of Colors Stakes going five furlongs on the turf at the Hallandale Beach oval on March 26.

Since running fifth in the Roar Stakes on the Gulfstream turf, Last Leaf has gone back to the main track and found her best form, posting victories in the Game Face and Azalea Stakes at Gulfstream prior to making her maiden voyage to the Bluegrass State.

During her current win streak, Last Leaf has shown she can sit wherever her jockey asks and on Sunday, she tracked along in eighth while longshot Gata Runz cut fractions of :22.44. As race favorite Gunning took over to reach the half-mile mark in :45.48, Last Leaf loomed up on the outside in fourth with jockey Rafael Bejarano still yet to ask for her best run.

“I just wanted to have good position in the beginning,” Bejarano said. “I know this filly in the last few races didn’t break really good, but…she really helped me out today. She was in a great position and by the three eighths, she got clear on the outside.”

Sent off at 3-1 odds, Last Leaf used her momentum off the turn to take the lead at the head of the lane and continued to stride out as she reached the wire 1 ¾ lengths in front of runner-up Take a Stand, covering the seven furlongs in 1:24.69 over a track rated fast.

Gunning was third with Optionality fourth.

A veteran of 15 career starts, Last Leaf has seven wins overall with earnings of $332,647. She was bred in Kentucky by Khalid Mishref Alkahtani out of the Paddy O’Prado mare My Miss Kallie.

Li’l Tootsie Rallies From Off The Pace For Groupie Doll Triumph

Four years ago, trainer Tom Amoss and owner Joel Politi came to Ellis Park’s signature day of racing and watched one of their fillies announce herself as a divisional threat. On Sunday, the connections again got to see one of their promising distaffers head to the Pea Patch and emerge with a victory they hope is indicative of bigger things to come.

Trying to fill the shoes of 2019 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Serengeti Empress is an unfair ask but Li’l Tootsie has quietly been doing her part to keep owner’s colors a regular presence in the winner’s circle. On Sunday, the 4-year-old daughter of Tapiture scored her second straight stakes victory when she advanced from off the pace for a 1 ½-length triumph in the $125,000 Groupie Doll at Ellis Park.

The one-mile Groupie Doll was previously contested as the Gardenia Stakes but was renamed in 2015 in honor of the two-time champion female sprinter who won the 2011 edition of the race.

In 2018, Amoss and Politi celebrated Serengeti Empress’s first major shot across the bow when she annexed the Ellis Park Debutante – the first stakes victory in what would be a multiple Grade 1 winning career. Though Li’l Tootsie flirted with the Kentucky Oaks trail during her sophomore season, she had been unable to get over the stakes hump until taking the Anchorage Overnight by 3 ½ lengths at Churchill Downs on July 3.

Racing over the same eight-furlong distance on Sunday and let go at 13-1 odds, Li’l Tootsie traveled up the backside in the four path in fifth as even-money favorite Super Quick led the 10-horse field through fractions of :23.17 and :45.67 while pressed by Graysonsmacho Gal to her outside.

While Graysonsmacho Gal began to fade around the far turn, Li’l Tootsie surged up three-wide to take command at the top of the lane with Super Quick still battling to the inside. The fight would be for minor honors from there as Li’l Tootsie held a two-length lead in the final sixteenth with runner-up Jilted Bride making a marginal dent in that advantage as they reached the wire.

“This is our first stakes win at Ellis since Serengeti Empress,” Politi said. “(Li’l Tootsie) has been good her whole career really. From minute one when she broke her maiden, she’s run some really great races. She’s had a couple hiccups along the way where she didn’t fire like we thought she would but if you look at her record, she’s been super consistent. If I could have 10 of her, I’d do that in a second.”

Li’l Tootsie covered the distance in 1:37.42 over a track rated fast, earning her seventh career win from 17 starts.

Jilted Bride was a length in front of third-place finisher Recoded with Super Quick fourth. Jockey Joe Talamo dismounted from Super Quick right after she crossed the wire and the Norm Casse-trained filly was euthanized after suffering a catastrophic injury.

Bred in Kentucky by Davant Latham out of the Dayjur mare Informative Style, Li’l Tootsie bolstered her career bankroll $532,874.

Top Recruit Repels Challenge For Ellis Park Juvenile Victory

After prompting the pace to keep things honest in the early going, Top Recruit showed how genuine his talent is as he dug in to turn back 6-5 favorite Curly Jack during a protracted stretch duel and capture $125,000 Runhappy Ellis Park Juvenile by a head.

Trained and co-owned by Mike Maker along with owners Paradise Farms Corp., David Staudacher, and Three Diamonds Farm, Top Recruit was making his third career start and showed massive improvement from his first try against stakes company. After breaking his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs on June 9, the son of Midshipman finished a well-beaten third as the favorite in the $100,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes at Prairie Meadows on July 9.

As he began his run on Sunday from the outside post 6 under jockey Gerardo Corrales, Top Recruit kept himself in the mix from the start during his latest step up in company. As Eli’s Promise raced up along the inside to cover the opening quarter mile in :22.13, Top Recruit rated three-wide in second just a head behind the leader.

The gray colt then ranged up to stick a head in front of Frosted Departure as they reached the half in :45.24 and after putting that challenger away around the far turn, he found himself engaged in a fresh battle with Curly Jack sweeping up on the outside.

Curly Jack looked poised to go by in midstretch but Top Recruit, sent off at 6-1 odds, would not be denied, fighting on along the rail to get up at the wire and stop the teletimer in 1:24.40 over a track rated fast.

“He was actually an absolutely spectacular physical and we sold him as a July yearling to Wavertree,” said Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall, which sold Top Recruit for $120,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale. “When he broke his maiden, I was just blow away. He is just an Adonis of a horse.

“I think he was a little bit green coming down the stretch and once he switched his leads, that heart kicked in and he fought all the way to the wire. Hopefully he has a spectacular future.”

The top two were 14 ¾ lengths clear of Roman Giant back in third with Frosted Departure coming home fourth in the six-horse field.

Bred in Kentucky by Dunwoody Farm out of the Afleet Alex mare Oh So Bella, Top Recruit has now won two of three career starts with earnings of $155,840.

Justa Warrior Keeps Record Perfect With Ellis Park Debutante Win

Justa Warrior had already made one big statement on behalf of her barn during Ellis Park’s centennial meet. The daughter of Justify doubled down on that initial assertion when she struck the lead in midstretch and kicked on in the final sixteenth to annex the $125,000 Runhappy Ellis Park Debutante Stakes and remain perfect in two career starts.

Trainer John Ortiz is already enjoying a career best season with more than $3.6 million in earnings so far in 2022, success that doesn’t figure to slow down anytime soon given the way his juveniles have been performing. In her debut at Ellis Park on July 22, Justa Warrior showed she was one such youngster from Ortiz’s barn to keep an eye on as she galloped to a five-length victory going 5 ½ furlongs over the main track.

Jockey Reylu Gutierrez was in the irons that day and, for as strong an impression as his mount made on him that afternoon, he was beaming that much brighter in the winner’s circle following the bay filly’s first stakes try. Sent off as the 5-2 betting favorite, Justa Warrior rated kindly for her pilot in fourth as Mor Lively struck the opening quarter mile in :22.39 and began advancing on the outside as Gutierrez let the reins out following a half in :45.71.

“I’m very happy for the owners, her pedigree certainly kicked in today,” Gutierrez said. “Johnny (Ortiz) did his job, he’s the hottest trainer in America right now and he’s the best 2-year-old trainer in America right now. I hope all the owners are watching Johnny, this horse showed it today. I think she kind of mentally turned off today until she felt them coming again and the was like ‘Oh I have to run’.  She turned it on again late and galloped out good.”

After Justa Warrior ran by Holiday Decision to her inside to take over the lead in the lane, Ortiz kept his partner to task in the waning moments as Pachuca came with a late surge, covering the seven-furlong distance in 1:25.89 over a track rated fast.

“It feels great to win a stakes race at Ellis, especially with the 2-year-olds,” Ortiz said. “To have a daughter of Justify in the barn right now is a gift. She showed what she’s capable of here. We train her hard in the mornings and she takes dirt, she showed she can pass horses. Today I think she got a little lost when she was by herself, but she finished the job.”

Pachuca held for second over Tap’er Light in third with pacesetter Mor Lively fading to fourth.

Owned by Stone Bridge Farm and bred in Kentucky by Triemore Stud out of the Bernardini mare A Z Warrior, Justa Warrior improved her earnings to $108,660.

The post Steal Sunshine Wins Ellis Park Derby, Last Leaf Takes Audubon Oaks, Three Others Shine In Stakes On Signature Day At The Pea Patch appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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