News - Videos - Blogs

Barn Notes: Thursday, May 22, 2014

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/22/2014 #
  • Mike Maker (Reed Palmer Photo)

In Today’s Notes: Maker Making His Presence Known this Season; Pataky Kid Returns to Favorite Course in Hanshin; Awesome Flower Looking to Do One Better for Connections; My Option Using Canadian Stakes as Chicago ‘Cap Prep; 

MAKER MAKING HIS PRESENCE KNOWN THIS SEASON
Trainer Mike Maker, whose 89 wins in 2014 currently rank him fifth in the country (after finishing third in 2013) has immediately made his presence known at Arlington International Racecourse after deciding to host a string here with assistant trainer Jessica Howell.  With 12 runners in the first 11 race days and a 50% in-the-money rate (including two wins), the trainer with a career 23% strike rate and winner of last year’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes looks to make even more of an impression on the stakes calendar at Arlington. 

“Having Illinois-breds helps a lot, but the main reason we came is because we have a lot of horses who fit the stakes program,” Maker explained.  “The condition book really fit us.  Plus, we have a lot of Polytrack and turf horses.”  Maker’s stakes hopes kick off on Saturday in the Grade III $150,000 Arlington Matron, in which he saddles Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Awesome Flower.  Last year, the trainer shipped in Ramsey colorbearer Sisterhood to finish second in the Matron.

“Transitioning here has been a hectic as expected, but that’s how it goes.  We are still getting ourselves situated, but happy to be here,” said Howell, who is new to the Maker operation and heads the 30-stall local contingency. 

“Through a serendipitous chain of events, I started with Mike this winter galloping horses at Gulfstream (Park).  I was going to stay down south with a string, but he was kind of up in the air on whether he was going to leave some there or not.  He knew he was coming to Arlington, though,” Howell explained.  “As soon as I found out that job was available, I jumped right on it.  I love it up here.  This is my fifth or sixth summer here.  I had horses in training for myself last summer.  The previous time I was here I was an assistant for Nick Canani and before that I was up here with Steve Asmussen and Tony Mitchell over the years.  This is the first track I ever galloped at and it kind of feels like home.”

Howell elaborated on the decision to have a Maker string at Arlington.  “With Keeneland closing its track – which is sort of a home base for us – and Arlington being such a nice racetrack, it really was a no-brainer.  Arlington also has a lot of options for mid-level claimers, as well as basically every other level of horse.  Plus, we have a lot of nice turf horses, with even better ones shipping in around (Arlington) Million time. 

“We range from $7,500 claimers to graded stakes horses and that’s what Arlington caters to – and that’s awesome,” Howell continued.  “We’ve got a few from Turfway and Churchill, a few faces I had down with me at Gulfstream and even a few from Louisiana – it really is a menagerie of Maker locales here. 

“Mike has really great owners, too.  We have quite a few Ramsey horses, including a couple 2-year-olds and a lot of ‘Kittens’ (horses sired by Kitten’s Joy) – we have literally half a barn full of ‘Kittens’ right now,” Howell laughed.  “A lot of those horses shipped up here off a run in Kentucky or elsewhere and are back into the pattern of building back to a race here at Arlington.”

Howell is very hands-on in her approach, but is excited to learn more from Maker while leading his Arlington string.  “We have about seven sets go out in a morning and I’m one of three riders – so I’m on a minimum of seven of these horses every morning,” she said.  “Mike has a very different kind of training regimen and I’m really excited to learn more.  I’ve seen horses improve and blossom under him.

“He trains a little harder in that he lets his horses gallop freely, but he also gives makes sure the days off are very lite.  He also walks his horses twice a week.  It’s an interesting balance.  The horses are really happy because they get to run and then they get plenty of downtime.  It’s almost like a European influence – whatever the horse feels comfortable doing, within reason, it’s allowed to do,” Howell explained further.  “Mike’s an awesome trainer.  This is not a run-of-the-mill operation at all.” 

While Maker and his focus on developing excellence at a high equine success rate hopes to continue with its new Arlington string, it also could go a long way in developing a successful human ascendency, as well.  “My goal one day is to train for myself again and I think this is the best way to do that,” Howell stated with a smile.  “I consider it like a padded springboard; like a bar none operation where I can really just focus on learning right now.  If you want to be the best you have to learn from the best.”

PATAKY KID RETURNS TO FAVORITE COURSE IN HANSHIN
Swifty Farms’ Pataky Kid has three career victories in his 13 races, with all of those coming at Arlington International Racecourse.   Included in that triad are two stakes victories, including last summer’s seven-furlong Coach Jimi Lee Stakes and the previous year’s Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity over the Chicagoland oval’s one-turn mile.  On Saturday, he returns in hopes of landing another one-turn mile stakes at Arlington, the Grade III $150,000 Hanshin Cup. 

“He’s doing fine right now,” trainer Tom Proctor reported.  “He’s better here and he’ll need to improve a little, but he’s doing really good and got a race in him in California.”

In his season bow, the son of Rockport Harbor steadied near the dirt of Santa Anita Park’s unique downhill turf course going about 6½ furlongs.  “He kind of got in trouble.  It actually was a good race,” Proctor reflected.  “He might be a race away from being his best, but it’s a good race and a good shop, so we’ll see.  We’re just hoping to have some fun with him this season.” 

MY OPTION USING SATURDAY’S HENDRIE AS CHICAGO ‘CAP PREP
While all eyes will be on the graded stakes tripleheader at Arlington on Saturday, May 24, one of the queens of Illinois racing will be worth watching in Canada.  Tim Keeley’s multiple Illinois champion My Option starts in the Grade III Hendrie Stakes at 6½ furlongs at Woodbine Racetrack for trainer Chris Block. 

A driving five-wide third – beaten only a half-length – in her seasonal debut in the restricted Third Chance Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course last out, the gray daughter of Belong to Me will be adding a half-furlong in distance and using such as a gradual springboard.  “The goal is to set her up for the (Grade III) Chicago Handicap, here at Arlington,” Block said. Last season, the versatile filly won the nine-furlong Grade III Arlington Oaks and was a notable third in the seven-furlong Grade II Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland.  On Saturday, the homebred hopes to break a five-race winless skid.       

AWESOME FLOWER LOOKING TO DO ONE BETTER FOR CONNECTIONS
Last year, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey brough a longshot named Sisterhood to the Grade III $150,000 Arlington Matron to run an excellent second, while being nailed in the final strides.  This season, they return to attempt to do one better with consistent stakes performer and synthetic track-adoring Awesome Flower. 

“She is coming into everything just fine,” trainer Mike Maker reported.  “The Polytrack is the main reason we’re coming.  Hopefully she can keep her record on it perfect.  Sisterhood was a little farther along than her, but she’s doing well.”

The daughter of Travers winner Flower Alley is a flawless three-for-three on synthetic courses like Polytrack, including a win in Presque Isle Downs’ Listed HBPA Stakes in September.  She breaks from post four under leading Arlington rider Florent Geroux.