A Thread of Blue favored in contentious G2 Penn Mile
Catch a Glimpse won the 2016 Penn Mile. Photo by The Racing Biz.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss by less than a length to undefeated Digital Age in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, rising three-year-old grass star A Thread of Blue will seek to resume his speedy dominance Saturday in the 7th running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Penn Mile at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.
Owned by Leonard C. Green and trained in New York by Kiaran McLaughlin, A Thread of Blue hinted at his quality as a two-year-old last year and then rose to the top of the class this past winter at Gulfstream Park, winning an allowance race, the Dania Beach Stakes and the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes in succession under jockey Luis Saez.
He made all the pace in the American Turf, widening his lead to three lengths at the top of the stretch, before being caught near the line and having his winning streak snapped. The Kentucky-bred son of Hard Spun boasts a record of four wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts with earnings of $315,190.
“He shows up every time,” said McLaughlin, who will ship A Thread of Blue to Penn National the morning of the race. “He shows a lot of speed, but in the Palm Beach he laid off the pace, and that was nice. Luis Saez will be there. We thought the turnback to a mile [from a mile and a sixteenth in the American Turf] will be great. We thought this was a great spot and great timing.”
A Thread of Blue will carry top weight of 122 pounds and morning-line favoritism at 5-2 odds in the Penn Mile against eight rivals, including Casa Creed, runner-up in the Palm Beach Stakes; The Black Album, a Group 3 stakes winner in France who was beaten less than three lengths in the American Turf; and Forty Under, winner last September of the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes on the turf at Belmont Park.
The Penn Mile has once again attracted trainer Mark Casse, recent winner of the Preakness Stakes with War of Will. Casse runners finished 1-2 in the 2016 Penn Mile with filly turf star Catch a Glimpse defeating barn mate Airoforce.
This year, the trainer returns with John Oxley’s Moon Colony (12-1), a half-brother to multiple-graded stakes winner Cavorting, who earned more than $2 million in her career.
Moon Colony broke his maiden on the grass at Keeneland last October and a month later delivered a powerful two-length victory in a turf allowance race at the Fair Grounds.
Casse gave Moon Colony some time off after a close-up fifth-place finish in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes in January at Gulfstream Park and said the rest has allowed his colt to grow up.
“I like him a lot,” Casse said. “When the dust clears, he’s going to be a good horse. I gave him a little break after his last race. He wasn’t very heavy and lightened up after the Kitten’s Joy, and I brought him to our training center in Ocala, and he’s come back and trained extremely well.”
While Moon Colony’s female family has predominantly produced dirt runners, his sire Uncle Mo’s offspring also take to grass racing.
“He trains good on both,” Casse said. “I thought the grass would be better for him off a long layoff.”
Casa Creed (6-1), owned by LRE Racing and JEH Racing Stable and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, defeated Moon Colony in the Kitten’s Joy before finishing sixth behind A Thread of Blue in the Dania Beach, second by just three-quarters of a length in the Palm Beach and ninth in the American Turf.
Another top contender in the race is Real News (5-1), trained by Al Stall for Town and Country Racing and Gary Broad. The son of The Factor finished second, beaten just a half-length, on May 18 in the James W. Murphy Stakes at a mile on the grass on the Preakness Stakes undercard.
The colt has two wins and two runner-up finishes in four starts.
An intriguing long shot in the Penn Mile is the French-bred The Black Album (15-1), owned by Team Valor International and Gary Barber and trained in Kentucky by Rodolphe Brisset.
The Black Album won a Group 3 stakes race at Longchamp before coming to the United States and finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on soft ground at Churchill Downs.
Since then, he finished third in the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland and then loomed boldly in the stretch after a poor star when seventh in the American Turf.
“He actually ran his best race last time,” Brisset said. “He was No. 12 [the outside post in the starting gate] and was acting up and rearing up a little bit. It was just very bad timing. The [horse next to him] went up in the air at the break, and our horse looked left and the gate opened, and he just broke up in the air. He was 10 or 12 lengths off the pace, and it was a slow pace of 49 seconds. It’s hard to close in a pace like that, and he did. He cut the corner and closed some ground. We just crossed that race off and looked at the next one, and this mile is what we’re looking forward to.”
August Dawn Farm and trainer Jeremiah Englehart enter Forty Under (7-2), the aforementioned winner last September of the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes over yielding ground at Belmont Park. After that victory, the gray or roan son of Uncle Mo chased the pace in second into the stretch before fading to sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
In his lone start this year, Forty Under finished second in the listed Woodhaven Stakes on yielding ground at Aqueduct. In his only try on firm turf, Forty Under broke his maiden at Saratoga.
Completing the field for the Penn Mile are Awad Stakes winner Empire of War (9-2), Fluminense (10-1), and Conative (20-1).
The Penn Mile, with a scheduled post time of 7:50 p.m., is the richest race of the year at Hollywood Casino at Penn National and in its brief history has become one of the most important turf races for three-year-olds in the country.
PENN MILE CONTENDERS
- Moon Colony (12-1): Casse trainee returns after almost a 5-month break… Was a late-running fifth last out in the 7 1/2-furlong Kitten’s Joy at GP, and that wasn’t a bad effort after coming 7-wide in the lane; galloped out just behind the winner… A couple of his rivals tend to show speed, which might create a favorable scenario for his late kick under Leparoux… #3 in here was 12-1 upset winner of this one’s last start, and Moon Colony also finished behind #5 in here back in an August maiden race… Has been training forwardly for a barn that can win off the break…
- A Thread of Blue (5-2): Had 3-race win streak snapped last out when just failing to hold on in G2 American Turf, an effort that was the best performance of three who are in this race (including #3 and #6)… Note that the only runner to return from that event, War Film, who was beaten less than two in the American Turf, was fifth by nine lengths in the Jimmy Murphy on the Preakness undercard… Speedy sort is typically on or just off the lead and figures to find a similar spot here… Never worse than third in six grass tries…
- Casa Creed (6-1): Upset winner of the January 5 Kitten’s Joy (in which #1 was fifth) hasn’t been able to get the money in three tries since, a runner-up effort (behind #2) in the G3 Palm Beach his best result… Was ninth, though beaten only four lengths, last out in the American Turf… Has done best work when involved early… Regular pilot John Velazquez seems to have declined this opportunity and will instead remain home at Belmont Park, where his mounts include American Turf eighth-place finisher Henley’s Joy in the G3 Pennine Ridge; as a result, Junior Alvarado has the mount… Alvarado rode this Jimmy Creed colt to his maiden-breaking score last August on the main track, and he and trainer Mott click at a 20% rate… Feels like he’ll need best stride here…
- Real News (5-1): Son of The Factor got away with modest early fractions in the Jimmy Murphy on Preakness day at Pimlico (48.70 for a half-mile), but make no mistake: they were motoring at the end, and while he couldn’t quite hold off winner English Bee, he remained two-and-change clear of his other rivals after getting the last quarter-mile in 23.45 seconds… That was his first try going two turns, and the Al Stall trainee doubles up just two weeks later… Veteran jockey Ty Kennedy will ride in search of his first graded victory… He certainly figures a forward factor again and would benefit from being left alone up there, which seems unlikely…
- Forty Under (7-2): G3 Pilgrim winner last fall pressed the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but couldn’t quite stay with the top runners, finishing sixth; he was 3/4 of a length behind a runner named War of Will, who’s gone on to do some nice things… Three of his four turf starts have come over yielding ground, and though with thunder storms possible Saturday it may not be firm, there’s a decent chance it won’t be yielding.. Regular pilot Manny Franco will ride for trainer Jeremiah Englehart… Figures second-flight or mid-pack early and hoping to kick on late… Was well clear of #7 in here last time out… Last time out was his first of the year, and though a well-beaten second, he was the only horse in the race to improve his position…
- The Black Album (15-1): Intriguing longshot won a G3 in France prior to landing in the US… Efforts here generally are better than they appear, as he’s had excuses… Last time out he had an awkward start, made a bold middle move to reach contention in the stretch in the American Turf, but then flattened out late… Was also hampered by breaking from the 12-hole… Kendrick Carmouche will ride a runner who likely has better efforts in him…
- Empire of War (9-2): Todd Pletcher trainee won the Awad at Aqueduct last fall but two follow-ups haven’t been great… One of those came in the off-the-turf Central Park, the other in the Woodhaven over yielding ground… He tried to third that day, well behind #4 in here, who also was making his first start of the season… Trevor McCarthy will ride… Must improve to contend in this spot…
- Conative (20-1): Trainer Marat Kozhomzharov looks for first North American graded win with this longshot, whose lone win came at the Fair Grounds… Of the nine horse who’ve run back from his maiden score (which came at 20-1 odds), none finished better than fourth in their follow-ups… Forest Boyce will ride… Is cross-entered in an Arlington Park allowance, which figures to be a much more manageable spot for a runner who has yet to show this sort of ability…
- Fluminense (10-1): Here’s a handicapping challenge: what to do with this son of More Than Ready? He ran a big one last out when trouncing an allowance field at Churchill, but that was on the main track at six furlongs… His lone turf try came in the 6-furlong Soaring Free at Woodbine, in which he was a well-beaten third behind Wallace, a runner whose best Beyer fig outside of that race is a 57, and behind Tricky Magician, who was still a maiden (and would take four more tries to leave the winless ranks)… Fluminense had excuses that day, a soft pace over yielding ground leaving him much to do late and some difficulty finding a spot to run in the lane.. Hall of Fame trainer Asmussen hasn’t run a horse here in the last five years…