Gives Maker First Stakes Win of Meet
Sir Dudley Digges dug down and won Thursday’s Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs by a head over Thatcher Street, his first stakes triumph since capturing Canada’s best-known race, the Queen’s Plate in 2016.
That was the centerpiece of a 10-race card that set a weekday record for betting at Kentucky Downs and produced the second-highest single-day wagering total in track history.
A total of $5,402,254 was wagered, topped only by the $5,769,505 bet on last year’s Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Day, which always is on Saturday. Thursday’s total was up 34 percent over the corresponding date a year ago, when $4,019,637 was bet.
Thatcher Street, with Chris Landeros up, set the pace throughout the mile, 70-yard race but narrowly lost after a stretch duel with Sir Dudley Digges and jockey Tyler Gaffalione. The Mike Maker-trained Sir Dudley Digges wrapped up matters in 1:48.43 over turf rated “good,” with slow times prevailing with the temporary rail out 30 feet. He paid $11 to win as the third choice in a six-horse field in a race that started out with 14 entries. A six-pack is a field size commonplace at many tracks but which has become exceedingly rare at Kentucky Downs with its $1.7 million in average daily purses.
“When he got next to that horse, he started laying on him a little bit, started to hang,” said Gaffalione, winning his second stakes in the first two days of the meet. “I just had to stay after him. I knew I had the horse to go on with it, but he was being a little stubborn. We had a perfect trip, just sat behind the speed. When I asked him to run, I just kicked him out and he exploded. Mike and his team do a great job. Any time you ride for him you have confidence.”
Gaffalione, the 2015 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey, now has won 3 of 12 starts in his first time riding at Kentucky Downs. He was recruited to ride here by Maker.
“It’s been a lot better,” the 22-year-old jockey said of what he anticipated. “I didn’t come in here with many high expectations. I just wanted to come in here and get a good experience, learn as much as I could. But you can’t knock what’s happening. It’s been a blessing, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Gaffalione’s main base is Gulfstream Park, with his native Florida right in the path of Hurricane Irma. “This past week we had to get down there and make sure the house and everything was all boarded up. Hopefully it’s not as bad as they’re saying,” he said. “We covered all our bases, so right now we’ll see how it goes.”
Sir Dudley Digges had won two Churchill Downs allowance races before finishing eighth in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap in his last start.
“It was very exciting,” Jeff Ramsey, son of owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, said of getting the 4-year-old colt another stakes triumph. “It’s a great stakes race, the Old Friends. They’re a great group of people working for a great cause: taking care of our retired thoroughbreds… He’s a great horse, been doing really well for us, and we’re excited to have this win. Good to see him back in form.”
Owner Randy Bloch, trainer Ian Wilkes and Landeros were all happy with Thatcher Street, himself looking for his first victory since taking Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 River City last Nov. 24.
“He’s an honest old bugger, isn’t he?” Wilkes said to Landeros. “Nice job. I thought you were going to get there.”
It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Gliding Alone, followed by Italian Charm, One Mean Man and even-money Chocolate Ride.
Sir Dudley Digges won for the fifth time in 18 starts. A son of the Castleton Lyons stallion Gio Ponti, he now has earned $752,184 with the winner’s pot of $46,035— running for half of the $150,000 pot because he was born in Ontario and not eligible for the Kentucky-bred purse enhancements. With the horse's last three victories all in Kentucky and leaving purse money on the table, does Maker wish Sir Dudley was a Kentucky-bred?
"Every time, except last year," Maker said with a laugh in reference to the Queen's Plate. "He ran super."
There were eight scratches in the race, several because they are running in other races at the meet. That includes Oscar Nominated, also owned by the Ramseys and trained by Maker and who will run in Saturday’s $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup.
Asked if it was a sign that they thought they could win the Old Friends without Oscar Nominated, or a sign that Oscar Nominated is doing so well he could win the big one, Jeff Ramsey said: “Yes, I would take that as a sign of both. That we thought Sir Dudley had a great shot, and we think Oscar has a pretty good shot Saturday.”
Julien Leparoux’s mount, Gio’s Calling, scratched out of the Old Friends, but the jockey still had a huge day, winning four races.
Jose Ortiz, riding for the first time at Kentucky Downs and fresh off winning his second Saratoga riding title, earned his first victory by taking the 10th race on the Maker-trained, Ramsey-owned Bodie’s Valentine in the $130,000 maiden race. It was Ortiz’s third mount at the track.
“Very different, very unique turf course,” said Ortiz, New York’s winningest jockey in 2016. “It took me a while. The first horse I rode went to the lead, and it didn’t work out well. Then I rode another one for Wesley Ward. I sat back and tried to stay in the middle of the track. He ran very well, and finally I got it down. Very weird track to ride. The first ride I was lost. The second ride, I knew where I was. Now on the third ride I’m pretty comfortable on the track right now.
“… Wesley’s horse, I think I moved a little soon. But now I have it figured out pretty much. You have to have horse, but you have to ride good, too.”
Edited Kentucky Downs release with additional content by Dick Downey
Photo by Reed Palmer Photography