Tony’s Investments, LLC’s My Pal Chrisy and Robert Leibner’s Bad Debt became the first horses since 2007 to successfully defended their Florida Million Day titles when prevailing in the $150,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff and the $125,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Cup at Calder Casino & Race Course on Saturday.
Trained by Tony Lutchman, My Pal Chrisy was never hurried through the early stages of the Elmer Heubeck, getting away from the gate a bit tardy under jockey Luca Panici and settling in sixth place while Cool Vixen ran on the lead through opening fractions of :23.45 and :47.50.
“They changed blinkers and the ones she wore today were a little more open so she was a little nervous at the gate,” Panici explained of the filly’s slow start. “But that ended up being good because there was a fast pace, and that allowed her to settle.”
My Pal Chrisy began to advance on the leader through a three-quarter split that was clocked in 1:13.76, making her way to the front in mid-stretch before bounding away from her rivals and opening up a lead that would extend to 7 ¼ lengths at the wire, stopping the timer in 1:47.58 for the 1 1/16-mile distance.
“Once we went, she did everything so very, very easy,” Panici said. “I think she is better now than she was when she won this race last year. And I think next year she is going to be very good.”
My Pal Chrisy returned $14.40, $6.20, and $3.40 for the win. Flying Trip paid $4.60 and $2.60 when a distant second, while Successful Song brought back $2.60 when finishing third as the favorite.
With her victory in the Elmer Heubeck, My Pal Chrisy has now won eight of 31 starts during her career, with seven of those triumphs coming on the main track at Calder where she has amassed $326,919 of her $375,068 lifetime earnings.
Three races after My Pal Chrisy won for the second straight time on Florida Million Day, Bad Debt equaled that feat when forging his way to the front in a thrilling four-horse scramble to the wire to win the Bonnie Heath Turf Cup by a neck.
Starting from post three as the odds-on favorite, Bad Debt was guided back to fifth while looking a bit rank early, allowing Speak Easy Gal, the lone mare in the field, to race comfortably on the lead through leisurely splits of :24.45, :49.78, and 1:14.22.
“He didn’t want to relax for me like he usually does,” winning rider Kendrick Carmouche said. “And by the time I got him settled, it was time for the running to start again. I was a little worried because I knew he would have to get right back into it, but then he kicked on again for me, and I thought we would be OK.”
As the wire neared, Bad Debt was still buried in fourth with Speak Easy Gal and Picou to his inside and Alley Oop Oop on his flank, but the son of With Approval was never backing down from the challenge, bullying his way to the front in the final yards to claim victory while covering the 1 1/8-mile trip over firm turf in 1:49.95.
“The more they kept coming out and bumping me, the more my horse wanted to go through there even faster,” Carmouche said. “All that contact got him riled up.”
Trained by Mike Trombetta, Bad Debt returned $3.80, $2.60, and $2.20 for the win. Speak Easy Gal paid $4.40 and $3.60 when second, while Alley Oop Oop brought back $7.40 when nosing out Picou for third.
With his win in the Bonnie Heath, Bad Debt has now found the wire first in 13 of his 34 career starts, with earnings of $520,065. The son of Grand Reward has not finished worse than third in each of his last 19 outings dating back to January 2011.
Larry Fugate’s homebred Cash Rules became a five-time stakes winner at Calder this year when leading throughout to post a 1 ½-length victory in the $150,000 Carl G. Rose Handicap for trainer Dave Fawkes and jockey Luis Saez.
“Nobody had speed, and he just broke so good that I had to go to the front, but that wasn’t really the plan,” Saez said of the front-running tactics he employed aboard the winner. “He was able to slow things down, and then when I asked him to run, he responded so good.”
Cash Rules was indeed unhurried through the early stages of the Carl G. Rose, setting fractions of :24.21, :49.13, and 1:14.84 while opening up a lead that was challenged late but was never seriously in doubt, stopping the timer in 1:54.15 for the nine-furlong trip.
Cash Rules paid $2.60 and $2.10 for the win, while He’s Spectacular returned $2.80 when second. There was no show wagering available on the race.
While the exploits of My Pal Chrisy, Bad Debt, and Cash Rules were the top equine stories to emerge from Florida Million Day, the leading human narrative belonged to jockey Jose Lezcano, who won the $125,000 Jack Dudley Sprint with Samuel Rogers’ Close It Out, the $100,000 Arthur I Appleton Juvenile turf aboard Gilbert Campbell’s Kanturk Kid, and the $100,000 John Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf with Sunshine Thoroughbred Crop.’s Nicki Starshine.
Trained by Steve Towne, the late-running Close It Out dropped to last in the 10-horse Jack Dudley field while several horses engaged in battle through opening splits of :21.50 and :44.86.
“The plan was always to take him back and he moved a little bit inside the gate, so he broke a little slow,” Lezcano said. “But after that he sat perfect.”
Bahamian Squall separated from the pack in mid-stretch and looked a winner as the wire neared, but Close It Out was always gathering momentum down the center of the track, getting up in the final jumps to win by a neck while running six furlongs in 1:10.73.
“When I wanted to make my move I had to go out wide, but he gave me everything he had,” Lezcano said. “He gave me a big race today.”
Lezcano employed similar late-running tactics, albeit on the turf, to capture the Arthur Appleton with Kanturk Kid for trainer Kathleen O’Connell and the John Franks with Nicki Starshine for conditioner Bill White.
“It took a while for my horse to get into stride, but once I started going he picked it up real nice and I knew I was going to get up in time,” Lezcano said of his ride aboard Kanturk Kid, which allowed the son of Act of Duty to get by Hardrock Eleven in the final yards to win by a neck.
The margin of victory would be far greater for Nicki Starshine, who Lezcano deftly guided through an opening on the hedge to win going away by 3 ¼ lengths.
“I followed the favorite and she took me to the last three-sixteenths,” Lezcano said of his trip tracking eventual runner-up Verso a Verso. “And then when the horses began to split and the inside opened, I asked for her run and she gave it to me. She responded very professionally.”
While Lezcano was a three-time stakes winner on Saturday, jockey Paco Lopez enjoyed a stakes-winning double, taking the $125,000 Jack Price Juvenile aboard David Melin and Laurie Plesa’s Brave Dave and the $125,000 Joe O’Farrell Juvenile Fillies with Eric Wirth’s Crumb.
Trained by Eddie Plesa, Jr. and sent from the gate as the shortest priced favorite of the day in the Jack Price, Brave Dave led every step of the way en route to a one-length victory, stopping the timer in 1:25.59 for seven furlongs.
One race later, Lopez came from just off the pace with the Larry Bates-conditioned Crumb to win the Joe O’Farrell by one length, covering the seven-furlong trip in 1:25.43.