Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, Sept. 16

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/16/2011 #

In Today's Notes: Leigh Bentley Tries to Kiss the Sky in Saturday's Pucker Up Stakes; Leading Jockey James Graham Rides Thursday Triple; Jockey Florent Geroux Becomes a Father for First Time

Arlington Park trainer Leigh Bentley has saddled horses in more stakes at Arlington than she can remember, and a lot of them went on to victory.

In 2008 Bentley saddled Fab Oak Stable et al.'s Stream Cat to win the Grade III Arlington Handicap and G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s Communique to take the Grade III Modesty Handicap on the same day – Million Preview Day. Later that summer she saddled D. R. Mason's Karelian to capture the $100,000 Sea o' Erin, and one year earlier she saddled Ashbrook Farm's Wicked Style to win the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity.

However, those horses were saddled by Bentley on behalf of conditioner Rusty Arnold who has been her Kentucky-based mentor for a number of years. Also in 2008 Bentley saddled Chrysalis Stable's Silverfoot to win the Grade III Stars and Stripes Handicap, but that was on behalf of Dallas Stewart, another Kentucky-based mentor who she originally knew back when they both served as assistants for Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas.

This Saturday, Bentley will saddle Green Lantern Stable's Sea Level Drive in Arlington's Grade III Pucker Up Stakes, and that filly will become the first stakes horse Bentley will saddle in her own name. Although the daughter of Malibu Moon has been summarily dismissed at 30-1 in the morning line, Bentley thinks the sky's the limit for the future of Sea Level Drive.

"I'm very excited to have this first chance to saddle a horse in a stakes race that is listed in my name," Bentley said, "especially a filly like this one. She does everything I've asked her to do very easily, and I'm very lucky (owner) Richard Masson and Rusty are allowing me keep her to run her in my name. Hopefully, I'll do them proud. The owners and Rusty are super people and great for the industry.

"(Sea Level Drive) obviously likes Polytrack," said Bentley of the filly who won her most recent start by almost 13 lengths on July 30 over Arlington's synthetic surface, "but when I worked her on the grass here the other day (five furlongs in 1:04.80 on Sept. 7) she did it easily. Whenever I get on her in the mornings, she's very, very nice to ride.

"It's always been nice to saddle a horse in a stakes race but it's even nicer to have one of your own to saddle," said Bentley, who has been training on her own for about four years.

"I've been around horses all my life," added Bentley, who was born and grew up in the Steeplechase-saturated horse country around Middleburg, Va. "I rode jumpers as a little girl and I've wanted to become a trainer ever since I got too big to ride.

"My cousin was Henry Forrest," Bentley said, speaking of the legendary trainer who concluded his career as Calumet Farm's conditioner. "I hate to admit this because it shows my age, but I was born on the day my cousin saddled (Michael Ford's) Kauai King to win the Kentucky Derby. Surely that must mean I'm meant to win the Kentucky Derby, too. But let's take it one race at a time. Right now, I'd just like to win the Pucker Up on Saturday."

Jockey James Graham rode three winners Thursday to expand his current leading rider margin to five victories over current runner-up reinsman J. Z. Santana.

The Irish-born Graham won Thursday's third on Ronnie Edmondson and Linda and Keith Miller's Prime Speed for trainer Tim Ice, the sixth on Danny Peitz and Tom McCrocklin's Mawaaqef for conditioner Peitz and the seventh on Hugh Robertson and Barry Butzow's Ensorcel for trainer Robertson.

On the same program the Puerto Rico-born Santana kept the race close with a riding double, taking the fifth with Ron Magers, Roe Conn, Robert Marcocchio and Russell Scurto's Third Chance for trainer Jimmy DiVito and then reached the 70-wins-at-the-meeting mark astride Starlight Racing's Achamenes for conditioner Doug Matthews.

Venezuelan-born jockey Junior Alvarado, Arlington's 2009 jockey champion, remains in third position this year with 65 wins through Thursday. Alvarado was the runner-up in Arlington's 2010 standings.

Jockey Florent Geroux, now in his fourth season of riding at Arlington, became a father for the first time Thursday.

The French-born Geroux is now the proud father of Olivia Matilde Geroux, who measured 19 inches at birth.

Geroux, who won the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes last season at Arlington aboard Lawrence Peifer's Dade Baby for trainer Danny Miller, is slated to ride Herman Van Den Broeck's Angelica Zapata in Saturday's 47th renewal of the Pucker Up for trainer Ronald Pelligrini.