Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, May 25, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/25/2012 #

In Today's Notes:
Apprentice Alejandro Contreras Catching On at Arlington; Trainer McPeek Seeks Second Arlington Matron Score Saturday

When apprentice jockey Alejandro Contreras guided Eagle Valley Farm's Italian Breeze to a facile front-running 8 1/2-length score in Arlington's fifth race May 23, it gave the 27-year-old native of Ixtepec, Mexico, his fifth win at Arlington during its young 2012 session.

That victory also tied Contreras for current leading apprentice honors at the meeting with another bug boy who has since packed his tack for an East Coast campaign.

"I like to ride horses that go to the front," said the always-smiling Contreras, sporting his trademark ear-to-ear grin as he recalled his wire-to-wire win on the John Haran-trainee on the morning after. "I really like that kind. They are the most fun for me."

Contreras also seems to be catching on speedily at Arlington, much like he did at Turfway Park last fall where he recorded the first four wins of his fledgling career on the opening night of that northern Kentucky oval's September session.

"A lot of people came up to me wanting to talk to me after I did that," said the affable Contreras. "I liked that. I'm a friendly kind of guy and I enjoy meeting new people all the time and getting to know them."

Those first four career winners for Contreras on a single evening program at Turfway came just two weeks after Contreras rode in his first race at Cincinnati's River Downs last August.

"I remember that first race I rode very well," he said. "That's because I got very tired. I didn't win it, of course, but I got a feeling from it that was amazing. It felt awesome to actually ride a horse in a race.

"I first came to this country with my father when I was 14-years-old and I fell in love with horses right away," Contreras said. "That's because my dad (Bernardo) used to work with horses. In fact, when we first got to this country we came right to Chicago and Arlington because he was working for (Arlington-based trainer) Moises Yanez at the time.

"I liked Chicago right from the start," said Contreras. "There are a lot of friendly people in Chicago and that's one of the things I really like about it. My plan is to stay in Chicago here at Arlington and then go on to Hawthorne. My dream has always been to be a jockey. I started out as a hot walker and then went on to gallop horses.

"It took some time for me to become a jockey because had to gallop horses for quite awhile until I could get my legal status cleared up so I could ride in races," Contreras said, "but I've found that it's never too late to do something when you really want to do it.

"I'm very grateful to guys like John Haran for giving me the opportunity to ride for them," Contreras said. "He has stuck with me and now we've started to have a little bit of luck together. I was at Oaklawn last winter and things were kind of tough there for an apprentice to get started, and things were a little slow when we first got to Hawthorne in the spring because nobody knew me, but then things picked up and we finished third in the final standings behind Timmy Thornton and Cisco Torres.

"Guys like Timmy and Cisco and Jeffrey Sanchez and James Graham are good guys to be riding with," Contreras concluded. "They want to help you learn and they give me plenty of advice – and those are the kind of guys you want to take advice from."

It has been nine years since Kentucky-based trainer Ken McPeek brought Select Stable's Take Charge Lady to win the 2003 Arlington Matron, but on Saturday he will invade again to saddle Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River Stables' Kathmanblu in this year's renewal.

"I was real pleased with Kathmanblu's race off the shelf," said McPeek Thursday, speaking over the phone from Kentucky about his 4-year-old filly's runner-up effort when beaten a neck in Keeneland's Grade III Doubledogdare Stakes on its Polytrack course April 20.

Kathmanblu had been away from competition since finishing eighth in Keeneland's grassy Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Cup in October at the conclusion of her sophomore campaign.

"I think Kathmanblu is an excellent filly," McPeek said. "We're bringing her up to the Arlington Matron to hopefully get some more 'black type' on her record."

Take Charge Lady and Kathmanblu both had strikingly similar records early in their respective 3-year-old seasons. Both fillies won Fair Grounds' Grade III tune-ups for the Fair Grounds Oaks, and Take Charge Lady went on to capture the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, Keeneland's Grade I Ashland and Churchill's Grade I Kentucky Oaks, while Kathmanblu went on to finish third in the Ashland and sixth in the Kentucky Oaks.

However, Take Charge Lady spent her entire career on the main track, while following the Kentucky Oaks Kathmanblu went on to make her next four starts on the grass, including a fourth place effort in Churchill's Grade III Regret Stakes and a runner-up finish in Saratoga's Grade II Lake Placid Stakes over yielding ground.