By Jennie Rees

(Photo: Next Shares, with Drayden Van Dyke up, takes the Old Friends Stakes over Siem Riep. Reed Palmer Photography)

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018) — Next Shares, a horse that loves Santa Anita, proved on Thursday that he also loves Kentucky Downs, winning the $250,000 Old Friends Stakes under Drayden Van Dyke by 1 3/4-lengths over Siem Riep.

A total of $5,815,464.58 was wagered on the 10-race card, fourth-highest all time and the highest for a weekday. There was $5,402,255 bet on the first Thursday last year.

Trainer Richard Baltas shipped in Next Shares from California, where he had most recently run a poor 12th in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile after stalking the pace for six furlongs. He was made the favorite in the Old Friends off the strength of three on-the-board finishes in two Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 3 at Santa Anita this year. The Old Friends is for 3-year-olds and up that haven’t won a stakes race in 2018.

“He was too close the last couple times,” Baltas said. “He really wants to be back. He wants to be settled. Doesn’t want to be rushed at all. At Del Mar there were 13-horse fields and small turns. I don’t know if he really liked the Del Mar course. This was a good spot for him.”

With the first half-mile timed in a solid 48.50 seconds, Next Shares sat seven lengths off a pace set by Siem Riep down the backstretch and then by Shut the Box around the turn. Van Dyke pulled the trigger rounding into the long stretch, and Next Shares was ahead by a length with an eighth-mile to go. He made it look easy from there.

“I loved where I was early on,” said Van Dyke, coming into Kentucky Downs fresh off his first Del Mar riding title. “I loved where I was early on, got where the horse was comfortable. I had a few setting the pace in front of me and was just being patient to let him run. He was on cruise control, nice and relaxed, just loping around there. He was there for me the whole time. Richard did a great job with him.”

It was the Louisville-born Van Dyke’s first time riding Next Shares. “He was here and he’s the leading rider in California. He’s very good on the grass, and we were very happy to get Drayden.

“I think Drayden did an awesome job. I thought he might even be farther back. But he had him very relaxed, and that was the key.”

Meanwhile, Siem Riep and James Graham, who had dropped back in the turn, came on again in upper stretch to compete with the eventual winner only to be passed by Parlor in deep stretch. But Siem Riep gamely outfought Parlor to the wire to get second place by a nose.

“I’d love to have a bunch like him,” trainer Ben Colebrook said of Siem Riep. “He just shows up every time. Got beat by a better horse. I don’t think he loved it; probably a little softer than he likes. He likes it really, really firm. But taking nothing from the winner.”

Flatlined finished fourth, two lengths behind of Parlor, followed by Master Merion, Zapperini, Doctor Mounty, Siding Spring, Cowboy Culture, Bondurant and Shut the Box. The race was timed in 1:41.79 going a mile and 70 yards.

“I thought he ran great,” said Joe Rocco, rider of Flatlined, who won the 2016 Old Friends and was second in last year’s Tourist Mile at the track but has been off-form for much of this season. “… It feels like he’s back to himself. He was running on at the end, and he ran inside. They were way too strung out to try to get around all of them.”

Next Shares returned backers $7.80 to win, $4.80 to place and $3.80 to show. The winner’s share of $145,700 pushed Next Shares’ total earnings to $467,697.

The winner was bred in Kentucky by Buck Pond Farm, Inc. He’s by Archarcharch out of Two Dot Slew, by Evansville Slew and is owned by Michael Iavarone, Jules Iavarone, Jerry McClanahan, Christopher Dunn, William Marasa, Ritchie Robershaw and Mark Taylor.

“He’s just a beautiful horse,” Baltas said. “He always feels good. He’s a dark bay and he has a little white stripe down the middle of his back. He’s just a gorgeous horse. I said in the paddock before the race, if it was a beauty contest, we’d be in the winner’s circle. He’s just a really lovely horse.”

Van Dyke, one of the sport’s rising stars, turns 24 on Monday. Last year he celebrated his birthday by winning the Dueling Grounds Derby aboard Big Bend, whom he’ll ride in Saturday’s $750,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup.

“The money is amazing,” Van Dyke said of Kentucky Downs. “There’s no place like this for this amount of money in maiden special weights and what not. That’s an early birthday present already. So thank you, Richard.”

Baltas told Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends equine retirement farms for which the stakes is named, that he shipped the 5-year-old gelding to Kentucky Downs because he wanted to win the stakes so Next Shares could retire to Old Friends after his racing career ends. That’s a perk for the stakes’ winners.

“That’s what he told me,” Blowen said cheerfully. “I don’t even care if he’s lying; it’s such a good story. He’s a really, really nice horse.”

Blowen assured him that Next Shares would have a home at Old Friends but that they hoped to see him again next year and for years to come at Kentucky Downs.

“I told him, ‘We’re in no hurry,’” he said.