The Old Forester Mint Julep Trophy
For those that are around the sport of Thoroughbred racing long enough, it will be understood that one rule normally applies. The only certain thing in this game is uncertainty. Those floating question marks are one of the things that makes it so special. For those that did not already know, the Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 12 was a reminder.
Coming in to this grade 3 go over the Churchill grass, most thought this was an easy race to forecast. The mile and a sixteenth Mint Julep was the headliner on an 11 race Downs after Dark card and looked to be gift wrapped for a battle tested Juliet Foxtrot. Trained by the brilliant Brad Cox, Juliet Foxtrot was making her eleventh consecutive start in graded stakes company and was fresh off a front-running score at Keeneland in the Jenny Wiley Stakes. Backed by the bettors and going off at odds of 1 to 2, the result was being penciled in by many…and then the gates opened and the race was run.
The seven other horses in the race had not looked at the tote board and had come ready to fight with Foxtrot. It was anyone’s race and they had no intentions of mailing anything in. Interestingly enough, it was Flash n’ Dance that broke immediately to the lead and caused Juliet to be taken back and sit just off the pace. As the field worked through some steady opening fractions (23.80 opening quarter, $8.60 half mile) it looked as if this would be no easy light trip of the fantastic for the heavy favorite.
Sitting about mid-pack at the half-mile pole was the interestingly named Mintd. Trained by Brendan Walsh, this Irish-bred five-year old usually comes with a big late run. Because the pace was not sizzling up front, jockey Ricardo Santanna Jr. had her a bit closer than normal. Having won her last race over this same Kentucky grass on the Oaks under card on April 30 with a late move, we had to wonder if this would be a Mintd Julep.
At the top of the stretch it looked as if Juliet Foxtrot would be the certainty that was expected. Surging to the lead under leading rider Tyler Gafflione, she headed for home on the lead. Suddenly, the Walsh trainee at 12 to 1 made a big move toward the front. Grass gobbling strides brought her nearer the lead with the wire getting ever closer. In the final yards before the finish line, Mintd danced past Foxtrot to win by a half-length. Displaying the huge acceleration of a good grass horse, Walsh’s charge reminded us all why we award the trophy after the race.
“She was coming in off a great workout and had run very well here on Oaks day”, says a jubilant Brendan Walsh. “She has really been a different horse this year and Ricardo’s ride was just perfect. We knew that on paper she was probably not a likely choice here, but they run races on a racetrack, not on paper.”
The win was the first graded stakes score for Mintd. It was her second win in two starts this year and was the fourth victory in nine lifetime starts overall.