The Magic of the Fall (Meet)

Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher saddled longshot Mrs. Revere winner Isabella Sings. Photo by Reed Palmer | contributing Photographer

Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher saddled longshot Mrs. Revere winner Isabella Sings. Photo by Reed Palmer | contributing Photographer

Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet has always been a mostly magical thing to me.

Sure, Kentucky Derby Week rests atop my favorite spots on the calendar as the home of the America’s greatest race. Churchill Downs has been a place that I have loved since I watched its races on TV as a child, and as a member of the track’s team, it has been my home for nearly 20 years.

And it’s always wonderful when the Breeders’ Cup makes a visit to our track. Here’s hoping that the leadership of that event will, in their wisdom, elect to return to Louisville in 2018. The city and region are ready for another Breeders’ Cup beneath the Twin Spires. Given Louisville’s sparkling record in eight previous visits to Churchill Downs, the track and its hometown and region have proved that this city can do the job like no other.

But any Fall Meet at Churchill Downs is special to me. In most years, Fall Meet fields are packed with horses looking to close out the year in style. That’s especially true in races for 2-year-olds, with their participants bidding to flash potential as candidates in next spring’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks.

The Thanksgiving Weekend, the closing weekend of any year’s racing at Churchill Downs, is fabulous. More than 7,000 Thanksgiving dinners are served on this day of family and fellowship, and over the decades, generations of families have spent part this special holiday at the track at Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

After Thanksgiving dinner, we enjoy the Falls City Handicap, a race run for the first time in 1875, the year that Churchill Downs, then the Louisville Jockey Club, opened its doors. On Friday, we enjoy the Clark Handicap, a Grade I race for older stars named after the family of track founder Meriwether Lewis Clark. The Clark, like the Derby and Oaks, has been held each year without interruption since that first racing meet.

And on the final Saturday, we turn to 2-year-olds in the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program devoted to young stars being pointed toward the 2016 Derby and Oaks. Perhaps the eventual Derby and Oaks winner will appear in one of the races on that day.

One never knows what you might see when the starting gate opens in any of those “Stars of Tomorrow” contests.

But it’s the action on the tracks – both dirt and turf that make the Fall Meet special to me. Last Saturday’s 25th running of the Mrs. Revere, a Grade II race for 3-year-old fillies on the Matt Winn Turf Couse, provided a perfect example as to why the mix of autumn and the Twin Spires is so special.

First of all, it was a race packed with fillies representing the sport’s top stables, many of them shipping in from the east for the 1 1/16-mile race that was the year’s final graded stakes race for that age group and gender on the grass. Eighteen fillies were entered, and the maximum 14 broke from the starting gate.

The top two finishers in the Mrs. Revere were Siena Farm’s Isabella Sings, representing seven-time Eclipse Award-winner and Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, and Three Chimneys Farm’s Rainha Da Bateria, who is conditioned by Graham Motion, who counts a Kentucky Derby win among his impressive career accomplishments.

One could never call a Pletcher-Motion exacta in a race run anywhere in the United States a surprise. Yet, in the talent-laden, wide-open Mrs. Revere, the tote board testified that is was just that.

Isabella Sings led every step under jockey Paco Lopez and held on to win by a half-length at odds 27-1. Runner-up Rainha De Bataria, a stretch-running filly whose racing career has been plagued by traffic woes, got through this time under Robby Albarado and nearly won at 44-1.

Think about it. America’s leading trainer in 2015 a Kentucky Derby winner racing at the home of the “Run for the Roses” – gets away with a stakes triumph at 27-1. And Motion, whose horses merits respect and close evaluation every time one steps foot on a North American track, nearly gets to the finish line first at 44-1.

The exacta of Pletcher and Motion paid $1,799 for a winning $2 ticket. Let’s just say that winning trifecta tickets (requiring 1-2-3 finishers in the exact order of finish) and superfecta (requiring 1-2-3-4 in the proper order) would have made the holiday shopping season much more comfortable for any of us. And the IRS surely smiled after deducting its take of the winnings.

The Mrs. Revere whether the running just concluded or any other year is the Fall Meet in a microcosm. The race everything one might want in a Thoroughbred battle beneath the Twin Spires. In 2015, it was a race that training stars named Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Chad Brown, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Casse, Christophe Clemente, Tom Proctor, Ken McPeek, Chris Block and Kellyn Gorder could not win.

Ten days of racing remain in the 2015 Fall Meet, and wintry weather can always be a concern. You might recall that last year brought a wintry blast at this exact spot on the calendar that resulted in a frozen track and two racing days lost to the bone-chilling blast.

Any Fall Meet is special for the fun, the friendship and warm farewells at meet’s end that will hold us over until the spring and Kentucky Derby Week arrive. But for those who love the essence of racing, there are magic moments like last weekend’s Mrs. Revere – and more to come in the two special weeks of 2015 competition at Churchill Downs that remain. VT