With a fully viable Northern Kentucky path to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) back in place in 2021, surging Hush of a Storm could earn a quick van trip down Interstate 71 when he starts in the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) March 27 at Turfway Park.
Churchill Downs Inc., which purchased Turfway in October 2019, has increased the Derby qualifying points for the Jeff Ruby this season, awarding the race’s top four finishers points of 100-40-20-10, which puts it on par with the other highest-tier points races in the series. Last year’s Jeff Ruby awarded just 20-8-4-2 to the top finishers.
Hush of a Storm has thrived at Turfway and will enter Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile test off three straight wins at the Florence, Ky., track, including most recently a clear victory in the Feb. 26 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes when the son of Creative Cause rallied from eighth on the synthetic surface. With that win, Hush of a Storm earned 10 Derby qualifying points.
Video: John Battaglia Memorial S. (BT)
With another top effort, trainer Billy Morey and owner Joe Morey Jr. will consider a start in the Kentucky Derby, which would be Billy Morey’s first crack at the Run for the Roses.
“It’s hard not to think about it when you have a horse like this,” Billy Morey said. “We know there are a lot of talented horses ahead of us on the points board right now, but it’s something we’ll definitely consider if he runs well.”
While trainer Morey is as tight with owner Joe Morey as an uncle or second father, they’re actually not related. Joe Morey met Morey’s father, the late trainer William Morey Jr., some four decades ago.
“It’s funny; they met because they shared the same last name. One day Joe walked up to my father and asked if he was the “Morey” he kept seeing in the program,” Billy Morey said.
The other part of the Hush of a Storm team is jockey Santiago Gonzalez, who had ridden a few winners for Morey in Southern California when both were based in the Golden State. Morey and his wife moved to Lexington two years ago. He bumped into Gonzalez on a cold morning in late fall 2020, and since then at Turfway, they have teamed for a 6-4-1 record from 19 starts together.
Morey said Gonzalez is a great fit for his standout, developing sophomore, noting the rider had a good feel on where to place horses in large fields this winter at Turfway.
“When we saw each other at Turfway, it was a much different scene than California, as it was about 30 degrees,” Morey said with a laugh. “We both kind of looked at each other like, ‘What are you doing here?’ “
Their biggest success has been with Hush of a Storm, who debuted in a seven-furlong maiden claiming race in November at Churchill Downs. While Hush of a Storm finished off the board in that dirt sprint, he has thrived while stretching out on the synthetic surface at Turfway. With Gonzalez aboard, he rolled to a 5 1/2-length maiden special weight victory going one mile Dec. 19 before opening his 3-year-old season Jan. 6 with a three-quarter-length victory in an allowance optional claiming test at the same distance.
That effort set up his Battaglia victory.
“We knew he had it in him and then it was exciting to see him put that run together,” Morey said of the Battaglia, noting that the horse has always had an understanding of how to relax early before picking things up.
Morey noted that in his work two starts ago (half-mile in :48 1/5, March 13 at Turfway), Hush of a Storm showed different gears.
“When asked at first time by the rider, he went a little faster. And then when asked again, he picked it up again—right on cue,” Morey said.
On paper in the field of 12, Hush of a Storm figures to again have a fast early pace to set up his late run with Battaglia runner-up Like the King and third-place finisher Gretzky the Great again entered Saturday; along with newcomer Sainthood, who enters off a gate-to-wire maiden victory Feb. 13 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Gretzky the Great trains ahead of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber’s Gretzky the Great, trained by Mark Casse, captured last year’s Summer Stakes (G1T) on the Woodbine turf. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist was the even-money favorite in the Battaglia, where he took his pressured lead into the stretch before fading. Sainthood, a son of the versatile runner Mshawish , is trained by Todd Pletcher for owners WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.
Also on Saturday’s six-stakes card at Turfway is the $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks, a Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race (50-20-10-5). Hartwell Farm and SF Racing’s Wait for Nairobi won the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes Feb. 26 and will try to extend her win streak to three in Saturday’s one-mile test that has drawn 10 fillies.