Most of the excitement for the 2017 Col. E.R. Bradley Stakes at the Fair Grounds centered on the matchup between favorites Chocolate Ride, who'd won the race the previous year, and Western Reserve.
However, after the race, the crowd was buzzing after Granny's Kitten beat Western Reserve by a neck to get his first career graded stakes victory. It had trainer Michael Maker excited because Granny's Kitten was a promising 3-year-old whose career was affected by injuries, he said.
“(Chocolate Ride and Western Reserve) were the favorites, and we were the (6-1) fourth favorite, so I'd say it was a mild upset,” Maker said Wednesday, getting ready for Saturday's Road to the Derby Kickoff at the Fair Grounds. “It was a good effort.”
In Saturday's 32nd running of the $125,000 Col. E.R. Bradley, which is run on turf for horses 4-years-old and up, Maker will have three entered — Granny's Kitten, who will have Corey Lanerie aboard, 5-1 second favorite Galton and 6-1 Special Ops. They look to challenge 7-2 favorite Tower of Texas, who is trained by Roger Attfield and will have Fair Grounds two-time defending champion jockey Florent Geroux aboard.
It is one of three big races on a card with six stakes. The highlight of the day is the $200,000 Grade III LeComte Stakes for 3-year-olds. The $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, is the next-biggest race.
Granny's Kitten at 6-1 odds and entering with uncertaintity. After the big Bradley win, Granny's Kitten finished fifth in the Fair Grounds Handicap in February and was eighth in Mervin Muniz Memorial on April 1.
After that, Granny's Kitten was sidelined with a hoof injury and has not raced since. Asked if the foot injury was the reason was Granny's Kitten's fall off, Maker said no.
“That happened after,” Maker said. “He just wasn't good enough, pretty plain and simple. Those were tougher races.”
Tower of Texas, a Street Sense-Rare Opportunity 7-year-old gelding, is the favorite, although he is coming off a 2017 with a best of two third-place finishes among four starts. He was third in the Tropical Turf Handicap on Dec. 16 at Gulfstream Park.
Galton was second in that race after winning an allowance race at Gulfstream on Oct. 19, finishing second in the Mr. Steele at Gulfstream on Sept. 30 and winning a claiming allowance race at Churchill Downs on May 14. From February, 2015 to the second place in the Tropical Turf, Galton, a 7-year-old gelding, won five races, was second three times and third twice after his first two years of racing in which he was in the money four times in eight races but was fifth three times and sixth once.
Maker said Galton rates a good chance.
“He is very workmanlike and has the ability to adapt to any race scenario,” he said.
Special Ops, with a pedigree of Big Brown-True And True, is coming off winning the Claiming Crown Emerald at Gulfstream on Dec. 2. Special Ops hadn't won since a claiming race at Belmont in 2016. However, that is also the year he was switched from dirt to turf.
Monster Bea, trained by Mark Casse and with John Velazquez up, is perhaps another who bears watching. Monster Bea, a 5-year-old gelding also at 6-1, was second in his most recent race, the Arite Schiller at Aqueduct.
“It is a very deep and competitive field,” Maker said. “You always have concerns coming off this big of a layoff (by Granny's Kitten), how fit he is. But he's got plenty of miles on his comeback. It's a step into deep water, first off the bench. I just hope he's sharp.
“All three (of his entries) have trained very well. If we ran three times, it probably would be three different results. But they are three hard-knocking horses that always train well.”