Grinning through the grit and the grime in his mud-splattered green and white Merriebelle Stable silks, jockey Joe Bravo had nothing but smiles and cheers to offer the Keeneland crowd Oct. 6.
Aboard Blue Prize in the $490,000, Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes for the second year in a row, the veteran jockey could not contain his happiness after scoring back-to-back wins in the 1 1/8-mile feature, which offers an automatic bid to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park as part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
“Wow, Ignacio (Correas IV)!” Bravo exclaimed as Blue Prize’s trainer led the mare to the winner’s circle. “You knew you had her ready to run!”
Merriebelle Stable‘s 6-year-old Pure Prize mare was fourth early in Sunday’s race, settling just off the pace in the five-horse field as a keen She’s a Julie drove to the lead from the break, with Vexatious stalking in second.
Tracking the pace in third three-wide on the backside, favored Elate shifted wide in the far turn before coming under a long drive from Jose Ortiz. Alabama Stakes winner Dunbar Road, at age 3 the youngest contender in the field, skimmed the rail as the field entered the lane before digging in to draw on even terms with She’s a Julie.
Blue Prize drifted out even wider into the six path before rallying down the center of the track to give chase. Under a drive from Bravo in the final sixteenths, the mare kicked home just ahead of the wire to beat Elate by a half-length in 1:50.30 on a fast track.
“Ignacio had her very keen today,” Bravo said. “He said, ‘Try to keep her quiet. She’s ready to go.’ After she broke in front, she got back underneath me. There were some really good horses in there, but she was able to (have) a stalking trip and watch them (in front). We’ve always said she runs great at a target. She listens to me. I really didn’t have to do too much. It’s fun to be part of a good horse.”
Elate finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Dunbar Road in third. It was another 4 ¾ lengths back to She’s a Julie in fourth, followed by Vexatious to complete the order of finish.
“These mares are very nice,” Ortiz said of his runner-up effort on Elate. “I mean, the winner won the Spinster last year. I’ve ridden her before. If they run fast, she runs fast. If they run slow, she runs a little slower. But she always finds a way to get to the wire first. About this race, I think I was in a good position the whole way. (Elate) was very comfortable, and we were in a good rhythm. She just got beat.”
“She didn’t show much speed out of the gate, and (She’s a Julie) they sent to the lead and Elate was to my outside,” said Javier Castellano, who rode Dunbar Road. “I just kept tracking and saving a little ground and tried to go through. She went through a little bit, but I don’t think that was the best place to be today. It seemed to me the rail was a little dead.”
Argentine-bred Blue Prize is only the fourth horse in the Spinster’s 64-year history to win consecutive runnings. The first was Bornastar (1957-58), followed by Bayakoa (1989-90), and Take Charge Lady (2002-03). Susan’s Girl won non-consecutive runnings in 1973 and 1975.
“She means a lot to me,” Correas said. “The horses of my country (he is also a native of Argentina) have made me look good. Thanks to the trainers that trained them before me – they did a great job developing them. To tell you that I thought I was going to beat Elate, I would be lying. I thought (Blue Prize) was sitting on a great race. She was coming into form. When we went to Saratoga, we were looking to put her in winning mode. We accomplished that (with a victory in the Aug. 18 Summer Colony Stakes). I thought if Joe could relax her and if she had a target, she’s going to run big. Elate is a great, great mare.”
Correas’ charge was fourth in last year’s Longines Distaff. Should she ship to California for this year’s renewal, Blue Prize will likely face her toughest competition yet in the form of Midnight Bisou, who is undefeated in seven starts this season.
“Midnight Bisou is a super filly,” Correas said. “Elate is a super filly. There are others. If she gets the trip, I think she has a shot.”
Blue Prize improved her record to 9-8-3 from 22 starts, with earnings of $1,592,253. –Meredith Daugherty
Peace Achieved Wins Third Straight in Bourbon Stakes
Peace Achieved held on by a neck over Vitalogy to take the $250,000, Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes one race before the Juddmonte Spinster, giving trainer Mark Casse his fourth Bourbon victory in five years.
The Bourbon, a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Park, was run on a turf course rated firm despite on and off light rain Sunday. Casse expects the Declaration of War colt to appreciate firmer ground at Santa Anita.
“I’ve been pretty impressed by him. I thought his last few races were really good. He may not have liked that there was some give in the ground,” Casse said. “I think he maybe struggled a little today, but the good news is I bet you it’s going to be hard and fast at Santa Anita.”
Casse also won the Bourbon with Flameaway (2017), Keep Quiet (2016), and Airoforce (2015).
JSM Equine‘s Peace Achieved broke his maiden third time out July 27 at Ellis Park while stretching to a mile for the first time, then he won the Aug. 31 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes at the same distance.
In the Bourbon, Peace Achieved broke from post 10 of 14 and sat just off the early pace set by Field Pass, who set moderate fractions heading into the far turn. Gear Jockey stalked in third, and those three horses stayed prominent as the field turned for home, setting up a grueling stretch battle.
The front three were jockeying for position in midstretch when 4.70-1 favorite Vitalogy rallied from last to throw himself into the mix. The finish was close, but Peace Achieved held off Vitalogy to complete the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.06 at odds of 8.90-1.
“(Casse) mentioned the inside being a little softer than the outside, so we had a great post position,” winning jockey Miguel Mena said. “He came out of there running, and I just stayed a little wider for better ground. He was the best horse today – he’s very nice.” –Christine Oser
Kimari Impressive in Indian Summer Stakes
A Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint berth was on the line in the $200,000 Indian Summer Stakes earlier on the Keeneland card, and Kimari collected the honors with a last-to-first effort in the 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for juveniles.
Kimari was a 15-length winner on debut during Keeneland’s spring meet on the main track. She then lost the Queen Mary Stakes by a head at Royal Ascot before returning stateside to win the Aug. 14 Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga Race Course by four lengths. All those efforts came under jockey John Velazquez, and Mike Smith was aboard for the first time Sunday.
“This was a perfect race to set up for the Breeders’ Cup being here at her home track at Keeneland, and she showed a new dimension in that she was able to sit back in case there was a big speed buildup,” trainer Wesley Ward said. “She looked like she rated beautiful, and Mike said that when he just eased her out, she was like an old horse – she just took off. She knew where the wire was.
“Beyond the Breeders’ Cup, I think she’s going to have a big future on the dirt or turf. She can do either or. It’s always nice to have a filly like this.”
Kimari finished in a time of 1:03.03 on firm turf as the 11-10 favorite.
Even after the slow start, Smith did not panic and settled his filly before driving at the end.
“A lot of it had to do with what Wesley told me. He told me although she’s extremely fast, she breaks horrible every time,” Smith said. “Being in the two hole, I thought, ‘Wow, that could be bad.’ But he said she’ll be okay if that happens. ‘Don’t worry about it. Just ride her with confidence. I take my hat off to him. I did exactly what he told me to do. I rode her with a lot of confidence. When we came off the top of the turn, I just had to show her the stick a little, and she just took off.” –Christine Oser