Photo by Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs
Ellis Park Press Release: Stoneway Farm’s Ahh Chocolate, possible favorite for what shapes up as one of the deepest runnings ever of Ellis Park’s Grade 3 Groupie Doll, had her final major piece of training at Churchill Downs for the $100,000 stakes Monday. So did Godolphin Racing’s Iowa Distaff winner Innovative Idea, who will ship in from Arlington Park.
With exercise rider Joel Dominguez aboard, Ahh Chocolate worked a half-mile in 48 2/5 seconds, fourth-fastest of 49 works at the distance. She was timed galloping out five-eighths of a mile in 1:01 2/5.
“I thought she went fantastic,” said trainer Neil Howard. “But she’s pretty straight forward to train. On paper, this is a tough race. But it couldn’t set up better for her, plus we got lucky with a good post.”
Ahh Chocolate drew post 6, right in the middle of the capacity 12-horse field running a mile, with Improv needing a defection to get in off the “also-eligible” list. Howard believes Ahh Chocolate’s best races have come in larger fields because there’s often a legitimate pace to set up her preferred style.
“There’s enough speed in there,” he said. “She doesn’t really stalk but is a little bit farther back than stalking, in a perfect world.”
Ahh Chocolate was near the front amid a tepid pace in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Fleur de Lis on June 18, having the lead on the far turn but backing up to finish fifth of six, losing by 10 lengths to the very nice Paid Up Subscriber. But throwing out that race, Ahh Chocolate been very consistent, including taking Churchill’s Grade 2 Falls City last fall as a 3-year-old and the Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff at Pimlico in May.
“You can look at her whole form and I think she’s maybe run one or two subpar races, which you have to give them that sometimes,” Howard said. “But she’s trained well for the race.”
“I thought her work was excellent,” said Terri Burch, racing manager for Stoneway Farm. “Joel never moved on her, and she looks to me like she’s going to be tough in the race. I’m pretty excited about it.”
With regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. riding Saturday at Mountaineer, Ahh Chocolate will be ridden by Chris Landeros, who was up when the filly worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 last week.
Stoneway could cap a big week. The farm’s 5-year-old mare Stonetastic, a multiple graded-stakes winner for trainer Kelly Breen, rolled to a 6 3/4-length score in Monmouth’s Regret Stakes Saturday.
At Arlington Park, Innovative Idea worked five-eighths of a mile in a minute flat, the second-fastest of 19 moves at that distance. Trainer Eoin Harty said Innovative Idea needed to do something serious after a pair of leisurely works the prior two weeks.
“Sometimes things happen,” Harty said. “Last time she went to work and there was a loose horse and that screwed things up. The week before, the track was extremely hard so I told the guy ‘easy,’ and she went extremely easy. So she needed something decent, and it looks like she got it today.
“She’s always capable of that. Her last two works she was a victim of circumstances. She’s a very good work horse; very, very easy to train. Doesn’t cause any problems whatsoever. She goes to the track, does her thing and comes home. She’s not really a people horse, doesn’t require a lot of attention – just one of those horses you really love to have in your barn.”
Innovative Idea is 5-3-2 in 15 starts. The Iowa Distaff was her first stakes victory. Winning a graded stakes would be even bigger for the well-bred daughter of champion Bernardini.
“She’s a model of consistency,” Harty said. “She’s a tiny little filly, 15.2 (hands) at the most, 15.1 probably.”
In selecting the Groupie Doll, the graded status was a prime consideration, along with the fact that she wouldn’t be running into proven bears like Cavorting, Curalina, Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria and Forever Unbridled in the East and champions Beholder and Stellar Wind in the West.
“There were a bunch of two-turn distaff races over the course of the last week,” Harty said. “I picked what I considered the low-hanging fruit. It’s a full field, and not exactly low-hanging fruit but I thought it would be the easiest.”
Still, he said, “I was floored when I saw the nominations. And I was double-floored when I saw the entries and was scrambling around to find a jockey, because a lot of the jockeys are in West Virginia that day.”
Six-time Ellis riding champ Jon Court is named to ride Innovative Idea, but will ride Improv for trainer Rusty Arnold if that filly gets in. That is quite possible with Churchill Downs’ Roxelana winner Athena cross-entered in a sprint stakes at Mountaineer. The good thing is that Innovative Idea is an easy horse to ride, Harty said.
“There isn’t difficult bone in this filly’s body,” he said. “If we could get graded ‘black type’ (stakes placing) would be a super bonus on this filly, and everything after that would be gravy.”
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