FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023) — Given a name like Big Dreaming, you know a lot was expected when the horse owned and bred by Frank Calabrese was born in 2017.
Big Dreaming was the last live foal produced from the mare Dreaming of Anna, who in 2006 became trainer Wayne Catalano’s first Breeders’ Cup winner (in the Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs) and first Eclipse Champion (2-year-old filly). Dreaming of Anna died in January, 2018.
Big Dreaming certainly has been a good racehorse, with five wins, four seconds and three thirds in 16 starts for earnings of $402,945. He has won over turf, dirt and a synthetic surface. But dreaming is an ongoing deal, and now the aspiration is to make Big Dreaming a stakes-winner for the first time at age 6.
Catalano is hoping that comes at the upcoming FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, where he plans to run the horse in either the $2 million, Grade 3 Mint Millions at a mile on Sept. 2 or the $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup (G2) at 1 1/2 miles a week later. Catalano says the Mint Millions, one of three stakes worth at least $1 million on Sept. 2, is more likely. As a Kentucky-bred, Big Dreaming runs for the full purse in both stakes.
Big Dreaming has run at Kentucky Downs twice before. He led most of the way before finishing second by a half-length at 24-1 odds in the 2020 Dueling Grounds Derby. A year later he tired to eighth in the Kentucky Turf Cup. The horse, a son of Declaration of War, has raced only once this year, finishing third by a total of three-quarters of a length in Ellis Park’s $200,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Mint Millions at a mile.
“He’s run some big races,” the Churchill Downs-based Catalano said. “I just ran him off the bench the other day. We had nowhere else to run him, and we ran him in that stakes and he got beat a long neck and had to do all the work early. He’s one of my favorite horses. He’s sentimental because he’s Dreaming of Anna’s baby.”
Big Dreaming is sentimental in another big way: He is the last horse racing for owner Calabrese, who for many years dominated Chicago racing with his huge stable. According to Equibase, Calabrese has won 1,853 races and almost $34 million in purses since 2000, not counting horses he owned in partnership.
Catalano also plans the run Forge Ahead Stables’ Ellis Park debut winner Sponge Bath in either the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint on closing day, Sept. 13, or possibly on opening day, Aug. 31, in the $250,000 allowance race for 2-year-olds who passed through the sales ring during Keeneland’s 2022 September Yearling Sale. Both races are 6 1/2 furlongs, an eighth-mile farther than the Goldencents colt won at Ellis at 8-1 odds under Edgar Morales.
“He was working well and we kind of liked him going into that race,” Catalano said. “Six-and-a-half should be perfect for him.”
Catalano had one of the best meet’s in Kentucky Downs history when in 2013 he won 10 of 15 starts, with a second, earning a record $576,537 in purses. All-time Kentucky Downs leader Mike Maker tied Catalano’s track-record 10 victories in 2018, albeit with 44 starts, then surpassed the mark last year with 12 victories out of 66 starts. Maker also became the track’s first trainer to reach $2 million in purses last year, his horses earning $2,341,636.
Six of Catalano’s 2013 winners were owned by Ken and the late Sarah Ramsey, Kentucky Downs’ all-time leading owners. And six of the winners overall were ridden by Catalano’s son in law, Channing Hill.
“That was a great run, a really good meet,” Catalano said. “Channing rode a lot of winners. We were on a mini roll all around. That was fun to have a family affair. I didn’t even know we had that record until somebody said, ‘Maker’s going after your record.’”
While the purse money at Kentucky Downs was decent in 2013 — including $90,000 maiden races for Kentucky-breds — the stakes races in particular have really seen massive growth. Many of the stakes, including the two that Catalano won that year, were worth $150,000, with $50,000 coming from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.
Now there are 11 stakes at the meet worth at least $1 million. A Kentucky-bred winner would, in one fell swoop, top in one race the purse total with which Catalano set the meet record a decade ago.
“One horse could make more than the whole bunch then,” he said. “How times have changed.”
Among the sizable numbers that Kentucky Downs posts every meet (purses, betting, field sizes) are stakes nominations. Big purses + free nominations = scores of horses made eligible. Nominations don’t equate to entries, but a broader pool of horses only enhances quality of the ultimate field.
The nominations were released today (Wednesday) for the first group of Kentucky Downs stakes, the six stakes spread of Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 and 3, along with the $500,000 National Thoroughbred League Handicap, for which weights will be out Thursday Aug. 24. There were 478 nominations for the seven races, which reflects some horses being nominated for multiple races, and drawing from stables across the country.
The most popular race as far as nominations was the $1 million, Grade 3 Big Ass Fans Music City for 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs with 80 nominations. The fewest nominations were a very healthy 47 horses made eligible for the $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks, also for 3-year-old fillies.
The other stakes: The $500,000 FanDuel TVG Tapit Stakes for horses that haven’t won a stakes in 2023 (77 nominees); $1 million Gun Runner for 3-year-olds at a mile (73); $2 million, Grade 3 Mint Millions for older horses at a mile (71); and the $1 million, Grade 3 Dueling Grounds Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 5/16 miles (59). The NTL Handicap, for older horses at a mile, also proved popular with 71 horses made eligible.
The nominations and past performances for the stakes are available at this Equibase link.