A funny thing happened on Fulsome’s way to becoming a turf horse.
After four starts on grass with moderate success, rain at Keeneland forced an allowance onto the sloppy main track. Fulsome splashed home to a 3 1/2-length score and tonight is the odds-on favorite to extend his unbeaten streak on dirt to four races in the $300,000 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
Owned by breeder Juddmonte Farms, Fulsome has stepped up each time he’s run on dirt, taking the Oaklawn Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths and Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Matt Winn (photo) by 3 3/4 lengths in his past two starts. Trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux will attempt to win their second straight Indiana Derby, teaming last year with Godolphin’s Shared Sense (who makes his 4-year-old debut in the $85,000 Michael G. Shaefer Memorial on today’s undercard).
“He was a good-looking colt. But the dam had also been a really good-looking mare who didn’t live up to expectations as a racehorse,” said Juddmonte Farms manager Garrett O’Rourke. “She threw some lovely lookers, some of whom were temperamental and also didn’t live up to expectations. So, we started to lower our exceptions, even though he was a nice colt.
“… He did show (stakes) ability on the grass, and luckily it rained a lot in the springtime when he was supposed to run on the grass. He showed a new dimension and hasn’t looked back since. We started to raise our expectations with each run. He’s performed very, very well, especially his last race was a big jump forward. But he’s bred to be a dirt horse, so we shouldn’t have been surprised… He’s just backed up to be what the pedigree suggests he should be.”
Still, it’s understandable that Fulsome started out on grass. His mom, the Distorted Humor mare Flourish, is a half-sister to Juddmonte’s outstanding turf mare and $1.4 million-earner Tates Creek. Of course, another half-sister to Flourish is Sight Seek, a seven-time Grade 1 winner on dirt who earned $2.4 million.
“I think it’s a family that can probably run on turf and dirt,” O’Rourke said. “Until you try them, you don’t know which one they’ll excel the most on. He has a style of running, ironically, that is more similar to a turf style. I’m sure that’s probably what Brad was seeing, because he finishes really, really well. But he finishes better on the dirt, it seems, than he did even on the turf.”
It’s been a bittersweet year for Juddmonte. The farm is having a big year, including Mandaloun’s close second in the Kentucky Derby – which could wind up being a victory if Medina Spirit is disqualified over a medication infraction. Juliet Foxtrot became a Grade-1 winner, and Set Piece recently won Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes.
But there’s also great sadness around the operation after the Jan. 12 death of Juddmonte founder Prince Khalid bin Abdullah.
“The foundation of everything at Juddmonte obviously was built by Prince Khalid,” O’Rourke said. “His goals were always to be competing in the top venues with the top trainers, the top jockeys and as such he gave them top horses. This was a crop of 3-year-olds we felt ran very, very deep. From the time they were foals, we had banked on it as being a special crop. It’s a great tribute to Prince Khalid.”
Fulsome will break from the rail in the field of seven 3-year-olds.
“I hope post doesn’t play a big role in the outcome,” Cox said. “But anytime you’re down on the inside, it’s a little bit of a concern. But Florent has ridden him and got along very well with him in his last run. Hopefully things work out for a good trip and he can get the job done. I’m excited about what he’s done over the last few months, moving forward on the dirt.”
Only one trainer has won back-to-back runnings of the Indiana Derby: Bob Baffert in 2009 (Misremembered) and 2010 (3-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky, the Preakness winner).
Comparing Fulsome to Shared Sense, Cox said: “They’re very comparable. Fulsome might be a horse that is capable of being a little closer to the pace. We found out that Shared Sense just didn’t want to be rushed early, more of a come-from-behind horse. Fulsome probably has a little more speed, being an Into Mischief… We don’t know if Fulsome has reached his full potential yet or not, but both horses are very sound, good movers and seem to be able to handle two turns and beyond a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth very, very well.”
Cox also will attempt to become the first trainer to win the Indiana Oaks in consecutive years, if Churchill Downs allowance-winner Marion Francis can follow eventual Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil’s Indiana Grand success last year.
“It’s a very deep race,” Cox said of the Indiana Oaks’ field of 11, headed by Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Will’s Secret and Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks winner Soothsay. “She’s going to have to step up and forward. She’s a very consistent filly that ran a big race last time at Churchill.”
The Indiana Derby was Shared Sense’s first stakes victory. Aspirations for the COVID-delayed Kentucky Derby last year evaporated with a fifth place in the Ellis Park Derby. But Shared Sense rebounded to take the Oklahoma Derby (G3).
“We could have gotten into the Kentucky Derby, but we decided against it,” Cox said. “We pointed for the Oklahoma Derby, and it worked out well.”
The Schaefer is Shared Sense’s first start since a third in Aqueduct’s Nov. 28 Discovery (G3). Cox said the time off was planned simply to give Shared Sense a break after going non-stop for a year.
“It was time to let him drop his head and he a horse for awhile,” he said. “I actually didn’t even nominate him to this race. I supplemented him. I was thinking he’d be ready maybe middle of July, late July. But he just got ready so quick. His works, honestly, have moved forward. He’s worked better than he did as a 3-year-old.”
Shared Sense is the 5-2 favorite in the field of nine, which also includes the Cox-trained Plainsman, winner of his last two races.
Also from the Cox barn: Texas stakes-winner Raven’s Cry in the $85,000 Indiana General Assembly for fillies and mares on turf and Oaklawn allowance-winner Matera in the $85,000 Mari Hulman George Memorial for fillies and mares on dirt.
Matera was a $1.4 million yearling by Tapit who is out of the same mare (Miss Macy Sue) as Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map and the exciting young stallion prospect Not This Time.
Maker seeks another stakes off another claim
Mike Maker has made a career out of turning horses he’s claimed into stakes winners and graded-stakes winners. In the case of Exulting, whom Maker will send out in today’s $85,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial, he’ll try to do it twice with the same horse.
Owner Michael Hui claimed Exulting for $62,500 two years ago, and the gelding promptly won the $250,000 Oaklawn Mile in his first start for trainer Mike Maker. A year later, Hui and Maker lost Exulting in a $10,000 claiming race. Then a year after that, Hui got Exulting back in a $7,500 claiming race.
Exulting is gunning for his first stakes victory since the Oaklawn Mile. He comes into the Schaefer off of three straight wins.
“He was a good claim for him,” Maker said of Exulting and Hui. “Then he was running cheap. We tried to get him back a couple of times and got ‘out-shook.’”
He said, “I’ll retire him if he’s no good. And if he’s good, we’ll keep him. Turned out he’s good.”
Is Exulting as good as this go-round as his first time in the barn?
“I don’t know about that, but he’s pretty good,” Maker said.
Maker also has the 7-year-old Monarchs Glen, a $62,500 claim by Hui in March, in the $85,000 Jonathan B. Schuster for older horses on turf. Stretching him out to 1 1/2 miles in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Louisville Handicap didn’t work out with Monarchs Glen finishing last of 14. He came back to win a second-level allowance race with an optional $62,500 claiming price. The gelding was in for the “tag,” but no one took him off that last-place performance.
Pirate’s Punch has puncher’s chance
Pirate’s Punch will try to get his mojo back in the $85,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial. The 5-year-old gelding won a pair of Grade 3 stakes at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park last summer to earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Louisville-based trainer Grant Forster said he knew going down the backstretch that Pirate’s Punch wasn’t himself that day. Sure enough, he would up having surgery to remove a knee chip after the Breeders’ Cup.
In his only start this year, Pirate’s Punch finished sixth in Monmouth’s Salvatore Mile, a stakes he won in 2020.
“He got a little tired, kind of as expected,” Forster said. “The track was a little dead that day, and he was wide on the first turn. But he got a ton out of it. We’re just trying to get back on our winning ways with him, hopefully on Wednesday. But he’s coming into the race well.
“We’re just building him back slowly to hopefully have a good rest of the year. He’s come back and he’s trained great. We’re looking forward to having him back in on Wednesday. It’s certainly no easy spot for a non-graded stakes. But when you have nice horses you have to run against nice horses.”
Forster also has Microcap in the Mari Hulman George Memorial for fillies and mares. A $30,000 claim in January, Microcap won a Fair Grounds allowance race and most recently was fifth in Churchill Downs’ new Shawnee Stakes.
“We were trying to get her in allowance races, and couldn’t get in,” he said. “We took a swing at the Shawnee. We expected to be on the lead and ground broke away from her when she broke, and she ended up being last. But I expect her to bounce back with a big race. We’re excited about both of them on Wednesday.”