When Jason Barkley put in a claim for Spooky Channel in April, he had the audacity to believe that the dip in level the gelding was running at didn’t mean the 6-year-old son of English Channel was done racking up victories at the graded level.
It took a handful of starts for that notion to be proven correct but, with a Grade 1 winner standing between himself and the finish line on Oct. 22, Spooky Channel indeed proved his trainer wasn’t wrong in thinking he had snagged a runner with plenty more high-quality efforts to give.
The ultimate validation of Barkley’s faith played out on the Keeneland turf on Friday as Spooky Channel caught pacesetter Two Emmys in late stretch to take the $150,000 Sycamore Stakes (G3) by a neck, giving his conditioner his first career graded stakes victory.
A fourth-generation horseman and native of Evansville, Barkley is in his fourth full season of training having previously worked for the likes of Steve Margolis, Paul McGee, Wesley Ward and Joe Sharp. When he nabbed Spooky Channel for $80,000 on behalf of NBS Stable after the gelding turned up in an allowance optional claiming test at Churchill Downs following a ninth place run in the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) at Fair Grounds, he saw a contender who wasn’t far removed at all from his victories in the W.L. McKnight Stakes (G3) in 2020 and Sam Houston’s John B. Connally (G3) this past January.
“It’s a very good feeling (winning a graded stakes). It’s nice to be out here on the Keeneland turf for the stakes presentation,” Barkley said. “It’s just exciting. Horses will take you places. It’s all him. He’s all heart. He’s a cool horse. I’m just happy to have him.”
After a pair of off-the-board efforts in the Louisville (G3) and Wise Dan (G2) Stakes, Spooky Channel got his form on track with a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Turf Cup Stakes at Ellis Park on Aug. 8. His subsequent victory in the Sept. 26 Remington Green Stakes halted a five-race losing skid, earning him a chance to tackle the 12-furlong Sycamore.
With Mr. D. Stakes (G1) winner Two Emmys setting the tempo for the field of 11 on the front end, Spooky Channel tracked along in third under jockey Julien Leparoux through fractions of :24.87, :49.51, 1:14.52 and 1:39.81.
The running order remained unchanged until the top of the stretch when Ry’s the Guy, who had rated in second, dropped out of the pursuit and Spooky Channel took up the chase. Two Emmys maintained a narrow edge until deep stretch until Spooky Channel pushed by to stop the teletimer in 2:29.71 over a course rated good.
“We had a great trip. He broke sharp and put me in the right spot,” Leparoux said. “We were lucky to cross down and be able to drop inside and save ground the whole race. I knew I was following the one to beat (Two Emmys). I knew (Spooky Channel) was going to bring me at least to the eighth pole, and when he found the room, he came nice. That was a nice race.”
Two Emmys held for second, 4 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher Ry’s the Guy.
“It was good until the end. He runs hard every time and we appreciate having a good horse,” said Mac Robertson, trainer of Two Emmys. “He probably will get a little time off around here until the weather turns cold and then he probably will go to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the winter.”
Sent off at 7-1 odds, Spooky Channel improved his record to 11 wins from 25 starts with $601,722 in earnings.