Ellis Park Press Release by Jennie Rees

HENDERSON, KY. (Friday, Aug. 13, 2021) — Even if Sally’s Curlin hadn’t won CJ Thoroughbreds’ first graded stakes, the 5-year-old mare would hold special meaning for managing partner Corey Johnsen. 

“First and foremost, she’s named my daughter, Sally,” said Johnsen, who before becoming a full-time horseman was a noted racetrack operator who ran and owned part-interest in Lone Star Park and Kentucky Downs until those tracks were sold. “That’s most important. Secondly, she is our first graded-stakes winner.”

Now Sally’s Curlin returns off a 3 1/2-month layoff in Ellis Park’s $125,000 RUNHAPPY Groupie Doll, part of Sunday’s blockbuster five-stakes card at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park that includes the $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby. Sally’s Curlin has raced at Ellis Park once before, winning an entry-level allowance race at the Groupie Doll’s mile distance in 2019. 

“She worked like the wind Saturday,” Johnsen said by phone from Texas. “We were looking forward to a strong 5-year-old campaign from Sally. And then she just kind of lost her focus in the spring and we gave her some time off. She’s coming back from that break, and the word is that she’s training as good as ever.”

Said trainer Dale Romans: “It’s all positive with Sally’s Curlin. We gave her a little freshener, and she came back better than ever. Hopefully she jumps up and runs to her old form.”

Corey Lanerie has the mount.

Sally’s Curlin — a $160,000 Keeneland yearling by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin — was among the first horses purchased by CJ Thoroughbreds when Johnsen and his son, C.J., launched the syndicate. The mare is owned in partnership with Left Turn Racing and Casner Racing.

Sally’s Curlin required five starts to win, doing so the first time she ran in blinkers. Aggressively placed in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks off that victory, she beat one horse but rebounded to win at Ellis Park. That was immediately followed by a 9 1/4-length second-level allowance victory at Churchill Downs and the Grade 3 Chilukki Stakes that provided CJ Thoroughbreds its initial graded-stakes triumph. In fact, including her maiden win, Sally’s Curlin is 4 for 4 at a mile on dirt.

Sally started her 4-year-old season with victory in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie at seven-eighths of a mile in mid-March. Then COVID hit and she didn’t race until July, finishing fifth in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Madison then third in Churchill Downs’ delayed Grade 1 Derby City Distaff, both with exceedingly tough fields. Five disappointing races later, including her last two starts on grass, and it was time for a break and chance at a reset.

“Her 4-year-old year got messed up by COVID-19 and the race cancellations,” Johnsen said. “We had so many high hopes after that Hurricane Bertie effort, when she ran a super-good speed figure and the race of her life. And then we just couldn’t run her at her favorite tracks and favorite distances for a long time. It was very disappointing. Having said that, she is Grade 1 stakes-placed, and she ran a great race that day at Churchill…. I’m hoping the old Sally will show up.”

Of course, the last time Sally ran at Ellis, it launched that her three-race win streak. Johnsen promised before the Ellis victory that if she won, he would donate $500 to the Kentuckiana Friends of V foundation that raises money for cancer research and programs. Bob Valvano and Mike Pratt happened to be broadcasting their sports-talk show on Louisville’s ESPN 680 that day as part of a KFOV fund-raiser. It turns out that KFOV is having a golf fundraiser on Monday in Louisville. Johnsen knows a good-luck charm when he experiences one, saying, “If Sally wins the Groupie Doll, we’ll donate $1,000. One of the best races of her career was at Ellis Park. We’re hoping that setting will create some more success for her. She is the ultimate one-turn mile horse, and that’s perfect for her.”