Honorable Duty went straight to the front, repelled challenges with a quarter-mile to run and proved to be utterly superior in the stretch to win Saturday’s fifth running of the $200,000 Lukas Classic (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by 4 ¾ lengths over Money Flows.
The 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, owned by David A. Ross’ DAARS Inc., covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.42. It was his first start in 15 weeks since finishing second to current early Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) favorite Gun Runner in June’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE Appliances (GI).
Churchill Downs’ top jockey Corey Lanerie rode the winner for trainer Brendan Walsh. It was one of four winners on the day, which also included a triumph aboard Awesome Slew in the $100,000 Ack Ack (GIII).
Breaking the outside post No. 7, Honorable Duty dictated the pace when front-runner Flashy Jewel was bumped at the start. He easily made his way to rail as the field of seven older horses passed the finish line the first time around the one-mile oval. Honorable Duty, with Flashy Jewel just off his right hip, ran the first quarter mile in :24.29, the half in :48.96 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.51. As the field neared the quarter pole on the final turn, all but a fading Albano were within a length of Honorable Duty, who resiliently cut the corner and spurted clear to widen his winning margin down the lane.
“As Brendan (Walsh) told me after the race, ‘That was just a steering job,’” Lanerie said. “I can’t say enough how much of a great job the team did. The toughest part today was just getting him to the gate. The plan originally was to sit off of Flashy Jewel because he always shows speed. We caught a flier out of the gate so we just went for it from there. He sat the entire way with his ears up and very comfortable. Even when the horses got to me around the turn he still had his ears up and moved very easily.”
The victory was worth $121,520 which increased Honorable Duty’s earnings to $795,796 with a record of 15-7-4-1. The Lukas Classic was Honorable Duty’s third stakes win this year. Over the winter, he swept Fair Grounds’ dirt series for older horses – December’s $75,000 Tenacious, February’s $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) and April’s $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (GII) – before finishing second in Churchill Downs’ two prominent spring races for older horses, the $400,000 Alysheba Presented by Big Fish Casino (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and the Stephen Foster on June 17.
One year ago, Honorable Duty was fifth in the Lukas Classic, which was won by Noble Bird.
Honorable Duty is out of the A.P. Indy mare Mesmeric and was bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte Farms.
Honorable Duty rewarded his backers with payoffs of $3.20, $2.60 and $2.10 as the odds-on 3-5 favorite. Money Flows, ridden by Miguel Mena, returned $7.80 and $5.20 with Seeking the Soul finishing another head back in third under Florent Geroux and paid $4.40 to show.
Fear the Cowboy, Eagle, Albano and Flashy Jewel completed the order of finish.
“He ran such a great race today,” Walsh said. “We had a pretty tough spring campaign with him so after the Stephen Foster we gave him some time off to focus on the fall campaign.”
His next targets could be the $200,000 Fayette (GII) at Keeneland on Oct. 28 and the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs on “Black Friday,” Nov. 24.
The Lukas Classic, which earned Grade III status for the first time and received a $25,000 purse increase to $200,000, honors the iconic 82-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and conditioner of 26 Eclipse Award-winning champions has been based at Churchill Downs’ Barn 44 since 1989.
Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Awesome Slew proved to be one of the nation’s top middle distance runners when he ran down up-and-comer The Player inside the final eighth of a mile to win Saturday’s stirring 25th renewal of the $100,000 Ack Ack (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.
Awesome Slew, ridden by Corey Lanerie and trained by Mark Casse, ran one mile in 1:35.02 to prevail by one length. It was another 9 ¼ lengths back to third-place finisher Pinson.
Awesome Slew had been facing a stellar roster of rivals in top seven-furlong and one-mile races this year. Transferred to the care of Casse in February, Awesome Slew defeated multiple Grade I winner A.P. Indian in the seven-furlong Commonwealth (GIII) at Keeneland. He also had strong efforts when second to Limousine Liberal in the Churchill Downs (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day, Sharp Azteca in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII), Drefong in Saratoga’s Forego (GI) and Mind Your Biscuits in the Belmont Sprint Championship (GII). Awesome Slew also finished fourth behind Mor Spirit and Sharp Azteca in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park.
Following his performance Saturday, it appears that Awesome Slew will head west for the $1 million Las Vegas Dirt Mile (GI) at Del Mar on Friday, Nov. 3. Three of the last four Ack Ack winners – Pants On Fire (2013), Tapiture (2015) and Tom’s Ready (2016) – used the race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, as well.
Warrior’s Club and Pinson battled for the early Ack Ack lead and directed the field of nine 3-year-olds and up through early fractions of :23.07 and :46.50 as The Player tracked in third and Awesome Slew raced in sixth. Warrior’s Club began to fade midway around the turn as The Player poked his head in front. Lanerie dropped his hands and asked Awesome Slew for his best run and the 4-year-old quickly began to pick off rivals with a five-wide rally before drawing even with The Player at the eighth-mile pole.
“Turning for home I had a ton of horse under me,” Lanerie said.
The seasoned Awesome Slew’s class was undeniable in deep stretch as he edged clear from The Player, who proved to be a fascinating challenger.
“That horse (Awesome Slew) outran him,” said The Player’s trainer “Buff” Bradley. “He was running – they both were running.”
“The goal for this spot was to give him an easier race,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark. “He’s been facing some of the best sprinters in the country so he needed to build his confidence back up. He did everything well today and the distance was perfect. There’s still some discussion to be had but right now we’ll point towards the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
The first prize was $59,520 and hiked Awesome Slew’s bankroll to $952,940 with a record of 16-5-4-3.
Awesome Slew paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10 as the odds-on 3-5 favorite. The Player, ridden by Calvin Borel, returned $3.60 and $3.40. Pinson, a 78-1 longshot under C.J. McMahon, paid $15.
Harmac, Gray Sky, Conquest Big E, Zulu, Warrior’s Club and Etruscan completed the order of finish.
Awesome Slew is son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Awesome Again out of the Seeking the Gold mare Slewfoundmoney. He was bred in Florida by his owner Charlotte Weber.
The race is named in honor of Cain Hoy Stable’s 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who is enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In his only Churchill Downs appearance, Ack Ack won the 1969 Derby Trial in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.
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