BIG DAY AT KEENELAND FULL OF HIGHLIGHTS
Let’s pretend it is time for Sunday dinner and set the table. Opening weekend at Keeneland for the fall meet and the Saturday card features five Stakes races with four of them providing paid entries into the Breeders’ Cup. It’s not too difficult to add things up and realize greatness is all in our grasp. Needless to say anybody that was there was not disappointed. Wonderful weather and a capacity crowd was only upstaged by some spectacular performances. Here are the highlights through a hillbilly’s eyes.
STUBBINS STARTED IT ALL IN TURF SPRINT
Like any athlete, a Thoroughbred has to find their niche. It is hard to be a power hitter if you can’t hit for power and you don’t need to be a shooting guard if you can’t shoot. Stubbins is a three-year old colt from the Doug O’Neill that had displayed a nice turn of foot, he just had been unable to break through with a big win on dirt. Trying turf had seen him hit the board three out of four times with one win. He just hadn’t had that “oh yeah” win yet. Works and recent performances had told his cunning conditioner sprinting on the grass might just be his ticket. Testing graded stakes company and older horses , the five and a half furlong flight in The Woodford at Keeneland looked like the spot. Breaking at the back of the pack over a speed favoring course, this son of Morning Line was breathing the exhaust of the more experienced competition. And then it began…a rally of spectacular fashion. Weaving through traffic and finding a place to run under the expert guidance of jockey Joel Rosario, Stubbins exploded in the stretch and ran down the frontrunners. That brilliance told us all Stubbins might just be a big-time player in a very exciting and competitive division.
“That was a real hall of fame ride by Joel,” says O’Neill. “We think Stubbins has 100% found his calling.”
A LITTLE SPICE IN THAT PERFECTION PLEASE
The “win and you’re in” race for the Filly and Mare Sprint division of the Breeders’ Cup was loaded up like Uncle Earl on Saturday night. The Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes may have been a grade 2 race, but it featured a grade 1 performance. Spiced Perfection had been a busy horse throughout her career. Coming in off the longest brake since she began running in June of 2017, questions were abounding if she could duplicate her win in the Madison Stakes back in April over this same Keeneland dirt. The gates opened and immediately hearts of her connections sank as she stumbled badly and nearly unseated rider Javier Castellano. Like a real pro, the jock maintained and immediately got this daughter of Smiling Tiger in a running rhythm. Rolling up the backstretch and chasing the front-end speed. Spiced began picking off horses as she looked for a way to get back in the mix. Splitting horses after turning for home with complete Perfection, those same hearts soared as she roared towards the wire. Holding off a late charge from Dawn the Destroyer, Spiced Perfection completed an incredible run and gained entry into the Breeders’ Cup. In a matter of a mere 1:10.60 it went from “oh hell” to “all hail”.
A DERBY CONTENDER TO THE MAX
The 106th running of the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity was going to tell us a couple of things. First of all it would grant a runner entrance into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 1. Secondly it might just give us a glimpse at a real contender for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. The prestigiousness of the race of course attracted some of the heavy hitters in the training business as Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, Mark Casse, and Steve Asmussen all had entrants. Yes their charges looked good, but in the paddock it was perhaps a Brendan Walsh trainee that was most eye-catching. Big and with a powerful looking business end, Maxfield had the appearance of an eighth grade football player with a beard. A man among boys in looks, we had to wonder what would happen once the gates opened. After the bell rang, Maxfield made like his father, Street Sense, and settled at the back of this pack of talented two-year olds. Biding his time, jockey Jose Ortiz knew he had plenty of horse and asked at the right time. At the top of the stretch, the man ran right by the boys as if they were standing still. Running through the wire 5 ½ lengths ahead of everyone else, Maxfield earned an impressive second career win in as many starts. Yes, the first Saturday of May 2020 is still a ways off, but that butt belongs to a real runner.
“Good horses breathe a different air and I think he is one of those”, says Walsh, who earned his first grade 1 win. “He answers every question we have asked.”