The following appeared at bloodhorse.com and was written by Byron King. 2019 Rosie’s Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive will make his 2020 debut Sunday at Churchill Downs! The 3-year-old son of American Pharoah wowed fans at Colonial Downs last August when he captured the Rosie’s Stakes on Virginia Derby Day. He will likely be favored in Sunday’s $84,000 allowance race which is set for 5:44 PM. Fans can bet the action on line via TVG, XpressBet, TwinSpires and NYRABets.
Six months after finishing 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2T) at Santa Anita Park, Four Wheel Drive and Chimney Rock are rematched in an $84,000 allowance at Churchill Downs on May 17.
Although trainer Wesley Ward publicly indicated this month that he planned to return Four Wheel Drive in the race, carded as the 10th on an 11-race card, few chose to duck the unbeaten grass sprinter. Eleven rivals are within the body of the race, and another six horses are also-eligibles.
The deep cast is in line with the entire Sunday card at Churchill, where 10 races drew full fields. The one exception attracted 11.
Ward, who intended to bring the 3-year-old son of American Pharoah back last month at Keeneland before COVID-19 canceled that track’s spring meet, anticipates Four Wheel Drive will be ready. He is encouraged that his runner is no longer troubled by sensitive shins that forced light training during his juvenile campaign.
“Now that we’re moving forward, he’s just sound as a dollar,” he said. “Week in and week out, he puts in a five-eighths (breeze) in right around a minute. Everything’s gone right according to plan, other than we haven’t had a race until Sunday.”
Beyond the deep group he faces in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup, another challenge could be provided by Mother Nature. As of early afternoon May 13, the forecast from The National Weather Service called for an 80% chance of rain in Louisville on Sunday.
Although Four Wheel Drive has raced exclusively on firm courses in three starts, winning the Rosie’s Stakes at Colonial Downs and the Futurity Stakes (G3T) at Belmont Park before the Breeders’ Cup, Ward believes the colt likes a wet grass course. A sloppy main track, conditions that could be presented if the race is rained off the grass, leaves him less confident.
“The work prior to the Breeders’ Cup, I would say was the work of his life, and that was on a real deep, soggy Keeneland turf course. Keeneland was gracious enough to let us have that last work on the turf after what was just a torrential rainstorm,” Ward said. “I personally wouldn’t want to run this guy on a sloppy track, just based on everything I’ve seen from him on the grass, but that would be something I’d talk with the owners about.”
Four Wheel Drive made $692,500 last year for owners Mike Hall and Sam Ross of Breeze Easy. His victories led Breeze Easy to 2019 earnings of nearly $1.8 million, its highest yearly total since the stable was formed in 2016.
“If it’s real soft and sloppy, I’m sure we’d make a decision at the last minute with Wesley, but I wouldn’t have a problem with going on and running him,” Hall said. “We know he can run on the dirt also.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard for Four Wheel Drive’s final two races last year, has been named to ride, though Ward said Wednesday he was uncertain if the rider would travel from Florida for the mount. In that case, he would choose a replacement jockey for his rail-starting entrant.
Four Wheel Drive is one of two stakes winners in the race for the trainer. The other is Richard Ravin’s Maven, the winner of the Connolly’s Redmills Prix du Bois (G3) at Chantilly last year. He is unraced since a 10th-place finish in the Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes (G3) at Goodwood in July.
Manny Franco will ride Maven.
If the race is taken off the grass, Chimney Rock possesses experience on dirt that Four Wheel Drive does not. After his second in the Breeders’ Cup, in which he was beaten three-quarters of a length, Chimney Rock handily won the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile Stakes against state-bred opposition Dec. 14 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in a six-furlong race on a fast track. He also ran third in a Belmont Park maiden race in the slop last summer that was moved off the grass.
In his lone start this year, the Artie Schiller colt failed to handle a route, weakening to fourth in the Jan. 26 Texas Turf Mile Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park.
Mike Maker trains Chimney Rock for owner Three Diamonds Farm. Jose Ortiz will ride.
Other stakes winners in the open allowance race include Jack and Noah, the winner of the Nov. 9 Atlantic Beach Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack; Bango, who captured the March 14 Mayers Electric Company Animal Kingdom Stakes on Polytrack at Turfway Park; and Ohio-bred dirt stakes winner Betchaiwill.