Dark Cove, Ioya Bigtime Top Grade III Stars and Stripes
Kenneth & Sarah Ramsey’s formidable Dark Cove and Team Block’s defending champion Ioya Bigtime, plus the relative dearth of marathon runners in this country leaves the field for Saturday’s Grade III Stars and Stripes Stakes at a mere half-dozen but what the race lacks in quantity is made up by the quality of its top contenders.
The Stars and Stripes serves as the final local prep for the running of the $400,000 American St. Leger, which will be held Aug. 17. In addition to the Stars and Stripes, the 12-race card includes the Grade III $200,000 American Derby, the Grade III $200,000 Modesty Handicap and the Grade III $200,000 Arlington Handicap. As an added bonus, the 1-2-3 finishers in the Stars and Stripes will have their entry and starting fees waived for the American St. Leger should they elect to run in that event next month.
The Stars and Stripes will kick off a special $100,000 Guaranteed Pick 4, covering races 7-10 that will include all four graded turf stakes – the Stars and Stripes, the Modesty, the American Derby and the Arlington Handicap in that order.
Dark Cove ships to Chicago from his Kentucky homebase after capturing the Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland in April and repeating that effort one month later when taking down top honors in the Grade III Lousiville Handicap at Churchill Downs. Claimed by the Ramseys for $50,000 in April 2012, the son of Medaglia d’Oro has thrived for his new connections with three wins in five starts including the aforementioned graded stakes affairs. Rosie Napravnik, who was aboard the 6-year-old horse for the Louisville, gets a return call Saturday.
Defending champion Ioya Bigtime, who parlayed his Stars and Stripes triumph into a solid second-place finish in the inaugural American St. Leger five weeks later, is in search of his first win since last year’s Grade III Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs. The Chris Block-trained son of Dynaformer has hit the board in three additional graded stakes but has finished behind Dark Cove in the Elkhorn (9th after making the pace) and in the Louisville (fifth after not making the lead early, as is his custom). His regular jockey, Jeffery Sanchez, will be in the saddle again Saturday.
Team Block’s Suntracer, who is also cross-entered in the Arlington Handicap, was third in this race last year. The Kitten’s Joy 5-year-old followed that effort with back-to-back scores in the restricted $100,000 Illinois Owners Stakes in August and the $100,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne in October – both of which were run at distances considerably shorter than the Stars and Stripes. Eddie Perez is named to ride.
The Pizza Man, who races for national leading owner in races won Midwest Thoroughbreds, has never traveled beyond nine furlongs but the son of English Channel is bred to handle the marathon distance of the Stars and Stripes. In his last start, the restricted Black Tie Affair Handicap, the Illinois-bred 4-year-old finished a good second to Coalport, who is slated to start in Saturday’s Arlington Handicap. Florent Geroux will be aboard the Tom Amoss trainee.
Completing the field for the Stars and Stripes are Crown and Thistle Stable’s Doctor Trotter (Seth Martinez), a recent allowance winner over state-bred company; and Invictus Racing Stable’s Live in Joy, a Churchill allowance winner and more recently runner-up in a $100,000 stakes race at Indiana Downs.