LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For all the terrific performances by 2-year-olds so far at the Churchill Downs fall meet, none was more eye-catching than the maiden victory by an Indian Charlie colt named Ever So Lucky on Nov. 11. Even his normally hard-to-impress trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, had to agree that, yes, it was pretty awesome.
"There's a lot of talent there," Sheppard said the morning afterward. "I'd say I only had him maybe 90 percent ready. Once we start cranking down on him, well, that should be interesting to see."
Racing fans are quite interested to see how Ever So Lucky will fare Saturday when he stretches out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles while taking on Grade 2 company in the $150,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill. For many trainers, such a step up in distance and class would be regarded with skepticism, but with Sheppard, who wrote his Hall of Fame ticket more than two decades ago by imbuing his horses with an ability to stay, the decision to have Ever So Lucky supplemented to the KJC for a $7,500 fee is a fascinating one indeed.
For all his innumerable feats in racing, Sheppard, 70, has never gone very far down the Kentucky Derby trail, let alone have a Derby starter. But with Ever So Lucky, a sales-topping $600,000 purchase earlier this year for the Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge Jr., it will be difficult not to start thinking in that direction, if the colt runs another big one Saturday.
"I'm getting a little long in the tooth," said Sheppard, "so I actually wouldn't mind [having a Derby horse] at all."
Ever So Lucky, with Julien Leparoux back to ride, will break from post 1 when facing an assortment of similarly promising colts in the KJC, the anchor event on the second Stars of Tomorrow card of the fall meet. The first Stars program was held opening day, Oct. 30, and a number of the 2-year-olds who raced that day will be back Saturday.
Other contenders in the 85th KJC include Gemologist (post 9, Javier Castellano) and Timely Tally (post 3, Calvin Borel), the respective one-two finishers in a two-turn allowance on the first Stars card; Optimizer (post 6, Robby Albarado), third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity before failing to be a factor in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; Mr. Prankster (post 4, Edgar Prado), second in a Presque Isle Downs stakes last out for the red-hot Mike Maker; and last-out maiden winners Africanist (post 2, Corey Lanerie), Cyber Secret (post 5, Shaun Bridgmohan), and Atigun (post 8, Manny Cruz).
Rounding out the cast are Fine, Seve, and Saint Honore.
The KJC goes as the 11th of 12 races on a Saturday card that also co-features the Grade 2, $150,000 Golden Rod Stakes (race 9) for 2-year-old fillies. Seven maiden special weight races and three allowances also are on tap.
The Stars of Tomorrow program was inaugurated at Churchill in 2005 by then-racing secretary Doug Bredar as a means of showcasing 2-year-olds in the same vein that has been done for years at Churchill-owned Calder Race Course. The Stars programs have been very successful in terms of quality and quantity, having produced a number of top horses while also drawing big fields; including also-eligibles, a whopping 157 horses are on the program for Saturday.
First post Saturday is 12:40 p.m. Eastern, with the Golden Rod set for 4:42, the KJC for 5:42, and the 12th race for 6:10. The 21-day meet closes Sunday with an 11-race card.