The 6-year-old son of English Channel ran down Aug. 14 Mr. D. Stakes (G1T) winner Two Emmys in a thriller of a finish to take the $150,000 Sycamore Stakes (G3T) under Julien Leparoux by a neck, delivering the first graded stakes score of trainer Jason Barkley's fledgling career.
Barkley, a University of Louisville graduate who went out on his own in earnest in 2018 after starting a handful in 2015 and 2017, has been steadily ramping up his stable over the past three years, from 156 starts in 2019 to 182 in 2020 and on pace to surpass 200 this year. He claimed Spooky Channel for owners Art Neuhedel, John Ballantyne, and Daryl Shaw of NBS Stable for $80,000 out of an April 30 allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs, and after troubled trips in the spring, the chestnut gelding has found his stride again.
Entered off a Sept. 26 score in the Remington Green Stakes going 1 1/8 miles at Remington Park, Spooky Channel stretched back out to the 1 1/2-mile distance at which he won the John B. Connally Turf Stakes (G3T) in January at Sam Houston Race Park and the 2020 W. L. McKnight Stakes (G3T) at Gulfstream Park for former trainer Brian Lynch. Leparoux, who has ridden the gelding 10 times, returned to the irons in post 5 of 11 and tucked in for a ground-saving trip entering the stretch for the first time.
Two Emmys, who defeated multiple grade 1 winner Domestic Spending last out in the Mr. D., carved out fractions of :24.87, :49.51, and 1:14.52 under James Graham, showing the way well in hand with his ears pricked. After a mile in 1:39.81 he shook clear through 1 1/4 miles in 2:05.57 and was drawing off when Spooky Channel shifted out and was set down for the drive.
The two matched strides to the wire and despite being herded out several paths through the late stages as Two Emmys drifted toward the stands, Spooky Channel gained the advantage a few strides from the finish.
“We had a great trip," said Leparoux, who wore the stable's orange and black silks in incidental keeping with the Halloween theme. "He broke sharp and put me in the right spot. 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 he was going to bring me at least to the eighth pole, and when (Spooky Channel) found the room, he came nice. That was a nice race.”
The final time was 2:29.71 on a turf course rated good. Spooky Channel returned $16.40 on a $2 win ticket at odds of 7-1. It was 4 1/4 lengths back to Ry's the Guy in third. Bama Breeze, Another Mystery, Sole Volante, Kentucky Ghost, Ajourneytofreedom, favored Glynn County, Yamato, and Breakpoint completed the order of finish. Hierarchy was scratched.
"It was awesome," Barkley said of the win. "To run down a grade 1 winner, that was a really tall order today. The horse just ran a great race; Julien put him in a great spot. We knew we had to beat Two Emmys, and he tracked him perfectly. There was no pace in the race and he just sat a great trip. His mile-and-a-half efforts, he's always been a little closer, just like he was today. He was sharp and he got the job done, it was all him."
Spooky Channel improved his record to 11 wins and four seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $601,722.
"He's just consistent," Barkley said when asked what attracted him to the gelding in April. "He's always there, he always gives effort, and you can't fault that. If you find a horse with heart, that will take you to a lot of places. We're just lucky to have him in the barn."
Spooky Channel was bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm as the first foal out of the multiple stakes-placed Kitten's Joy mare Spooky Kitten, dam of two winners—both by English Channel—from four starters. Spooky Kitten also has a yearling filly by English Channel, and produced a full brother to Spooky Channel for 2021. She was bred back to English Channel for 2022.
Terry Hamilton, with Alistair Roden Bloodstock as agent, purchased Spooky Channel for $10,000 from Paramount Sales' consignment to the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October Yearlings Sale. The horse began his career for Hamilton with trainer Clay Brinson at Turf Paradise, where he won three handicap races, before moving to Lynch in the summer of 2019. He now has two wins and two seconds from six starts for Barkley and is one of 32 horses in the young trainer's stable.
"We've been growing; this is our fifth year on our own," Barkley said. "The team's been growing, getting better stock, better opportunities. We're just trying to take those and run with them and hopefully catapult us into a good winter."