(Fast Boat / All Photos by Holly M. Smith)
From the KY Downs Media Team / Jennie Rees:
Trainer Joe Sharp already has had a good meet with three victories on opening day of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs. But Sharp thinks he stands a fair chance to make it even better.
Sharp, who tied for the 2019 Kentucky Downs training title with four victories, had a horse in both legs of Wednesday’s featured $400,000 TVG Stakes. He has six more entered the remaining three days, including four in stakes races. Sharp has runners in a trio of Grade 3 stakes Saturday: Catch a Bid in the $600,000 The Mint Ladies Sprint; Summer in Saratoga in the $750,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, and Brad Grady’s Fast Boat in the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint. He closes out with Saratoga maiden winner Lady Danae in the $500,000 Ainsworth Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Last year Fast Boat couldn’t get in his intended Kentucky Downs stakes, because he wasn’t a stakes-winner and didn’t have sufficient earnings to make the overfilled field. This year, he took care of that early by winning three stakes in his last four starts, including the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint and Saratoga’s Grade 3 Troy Stakes.
“He’s a horse that has gotten better and better,” Sharp said. “This year obviously has been his best yet. He gets to come to our farm after every race for a week or two and let down, which he likes. We’ve kind of figured out what makes him tick. He’s pretty straightforward, definitely a horse that prefers firm ground, so we’re very optimistic looking ahead at the forecast the rest of this week.”
But Fast Boat’s ascent has been more dramatic than that. Sharp claimed the gelding for $40,000 three years ago. He finished last of six, beaten 12 lengths that day. Four races later, Sharp sprinted Fast Boat for the first time – and the gelding aired in a Fair Grounds allowance race. Kept to sprinting, he’s gone 8 for 18, including a Kentucky Downs starter-allowance race in 2019.
“We liked him enough to take him, then he ran really poorly the day we claimed him,” Sharp reflected. “We didn’t see anything physically to indicate why he ran so poorly. It was just figuring him out.”
The FanDuel Turf Sprint’s overflow field of 13 also attracted the top three finishers from last year’s race (victorious Imprimis and dead-heat runners-up Bombard and Front Run the Red); multiple Grade 1-winning mare Got Stormy; Grade 1 Jaipur winner Casa Creed, multiple graded stakes-winner Diamond Oops. The stakes, along with the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G2), will be broadcast on NBC. The winner receives a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar, while the Calumet Turf Cup winner gets the same for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
“It’s a deep race, but obviously we’re very confident in our horse,” Sharp said. “Casa Creed beat us in the Jaipur at Belmont, but the ground was very soft that day. I think on firm turf on a course we know he likes, that will play to our advantage. Got Stormy, she’s a horse for the course as well. She’s a horse for any course. I’ve got a ton of respect for her. We’re just happy to be in there with a chance.”
Highlander Training Center purchased Catch a Bid for $180,000 last November at Keeneland. She heads into the Ladies Sprint off victory in the West Virginia President’s Cup.
“We took her to Mountaineer to give her a little confidence and get her some more ‘black type,’” Sharp said. “She’s run some really good races for us.”
Ladies Turf-bound Summer in Saratoga, also owned by Highlander Trainer Center, has a win and a third in two starts at Kentucky Downs, capturing an allowance race last year. She started her 5-year-old season with victory in the Fair Grounds’ Tom Benson Memorial, then unseated her rider in a race at Keeneland. That was followed by a non-threatening fourth of five in Lone Star Park’s $200,000 Ouija Board Distaff that was taken off the turf. She rebounded to take the Indiana General Assembly Distaff.
“We’re very proud of both of them,” Sharp said. “I think Summer in Saratoga has some graded potential in her, and hopefully it’s Saturday. She’s won over the course. One thing I’ve learned over the years about Kentucky Downs, if you have a horse that likes it, you might be able to play a little a bit above where you’d normally be comfortable on a conventional track. If we’re going to take a shot, that’s a place we’re going to take it with a horse we know likes the course.”
Of Lady Danae, he said, “She was really impressive first time out at Saratoga and she’s been training really well. We’re really confident in her based on the way she ran first time out. A lot of fillies are coming in there with the same kind of record as we are, having just broken their maiden. I think it’s a pretty wide-open race. But … I expect a move forward from her.”
Sharp has won at least one race a meet and 16 races overall at Kentucky Downs since his first full year training in 2016. He thinks he has some real chances beyond his opening-day haul.
“We have some of our nicer older horses in top form now,” he said. “So we’re excited.”
Sharp said he hasn’t even thought about his chances to be leading trainer. “If we can knock out a few of these big purses, we’re going to be very, very pleased with our meet. I mean, we’re pleased with it already. Anything at this point is icing on the cake.”
— by Jennie Rees