Saturday’s blockbuster card at Keeneland presented a study in contrasts between the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) preps. While 7-5 favorite Vekoma booked his Derby spot in the $1 million Blue Grass (G2), the $500,000 Ashland (G1) witnessed a stunning upset by the 52-1 Out for a Spin who ran herself into the Oaks.
Vekoma, trained by George Weaver for R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables, was expected to improve from a comeback third in the Fountain of Youth (G2). Considering that was his two-turn debut, and first start since taking the November 4 Nashua (G3), the Candy Ride colt did well enough spotting Code of Honor and Bourbon War six pounds.
With new rider Javier Castellano aboard, Vekoma made more use of his early foot to attend pacesetter Somelikeithotbrown through fractions of :23.26, :47.03, and 1:11.55. The favorite wrested control on the far turn and opened up down the lane to earn 100 Derby points, for a total of 110. Crossing the wire a 3 1/2-length winner, Vekoma posted a final time of 1:50.93 for 1 1/8 miles.
The margin might not have been quite so gaudy had hard-charging runner-up Win Win Win enjoyed a clean trip. Near the rear of the field after getting bumped at the start, he was in the midst of uncorking a move rounding the turn when checked. Win Win Win lost vital momentum just as Vekoma was clearing away, but recovered to gain substantial ground in the stretch. By nipping Signalman for second, Win Win Win banked 40 Derby points and now likely has enough with 50 overall.
Signalman, well placed throughout in a ground-saving stalking spot, was relegated to third. His 20-point addition, bringing him up to 38, puts him 18th on the list going into next week’s final scoring races.
Somelikeithotbrown checked in fourth, worth 10 points, and now sports 30. Next came Chess Chief, So Alive, Sir Winston, Admire, Moonster, Lucky Lee, Market King, Aquadini, Dream Maker, and Parsimony.
“I’m pretty tore up,” Weaver said. “I’m excited. I grew up in Kentucky and came to the Blue Grass when I was a kid, every year. Winning this race is very special.
“The last start, there was a pretty fast pace, and I told (Fountain of Youth jockey) Manny (Franco) to be conservative the first half-mile.
“I talked to Javier (Castellano) before this race, and told him I wasn’t so worried about that. I wanted to know if he can go the distance. He’s got great tactical speed, (which) put him in a spot going into the first turn and just ride him natural.
“He’s so talented and he’s done things in the morning. I’ve really never had a colt like this in all the time I’ve trained. Nothing would surprise me. If he comes out of it well, we’ll go to Louisville (for the Kentucky Derby) and see what happens.”
Castellano was complimentary of Vekoma as well.
“I like the way he broke out of the gate,” the Hall of Fame rider said. “In the first turn, I realized I didn’t want to dictate the pace. I tried to ride a smart race. I didn’t want to be too aggressive early; you have to save something for the end. So we tracked it. I liked the way he rated the first quarter mile, and I liked the way he finished. Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.
“I’ve been learning about the horse. I’ve been watching his races. I really fell in love with the horse last week when I worked the horse. I was very optimistic about winning the race today.”
Vekoma brings a record of 4-3-0-1, $788,850, into Derby 145. Bred by Alpha Delta Stables in Kentucky, the $135,000 Keeneland September yearling is out of the Grade 1-winning Speightstown mare Mona de Momma.
In the Ashland, trainer Dallas Stewart was also experiencing the emotions of victory with Out for a Spin, but for a different reason. The Ashland came in the immediate aftermath of the tragic loss of his trainee Cathedral Reader, who sustained a fatal injury in the Madison (G1).
Commonwealth Stable’s Out for a Spin was an unlikely restorer of fortune. Making her stakes debut against the respective top two from the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), champion Jaywalk and Restless Rider, the Hard Spun filly had something to prove on form. But it turned out that she wasn’t just out for a spin with Paco Lopez aboard.
Jaywalk was dispatched as the even-money favorite, in anticipation of her bouncing back from her less-than-cranked fourth in the Davona Dale (G2). Going straight to the lead, she carved out splits of :23.19, :46.46, and 1:11.60 under pressure from Out for a Spin. The longshot was moving better than the favorite swinging for home. So was the rallying Restless Rider, and Jaywalk was suddenly treading water in third.
Out for a Spin picked up the baton and refused to let Restless Rider, the Alcibiades (G1) winner at this track and trip last October, pass. Repelling her challenge by a neck, Out for a Spin clocked 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.95 and netted 100 Oaks points.
Restless Rider ran as if in need of her first outing since November, and the 40 points will land her safely in the Oaks field with a total of 62. Jaywalk, who appeared ready to throw in the towel in upper stretch, found her second wind to go down by all of two lengths in third. With 20 more points to her credit, Jaywalk has 55 all told. Bizwhacks, a non-threatening fourth, doubled her tally to 20, and Lady Kate, Chocolate Kisses, and the eased Bell’s the One rounded out the order of finish.
Out for a Spin, who sparked a $106.20 win mutuel, boosted her bankroll to $354,903 from her 5-3-0-1 line. A closing fifth in her career debut over six furlongs at Churchill Downs, the chestnut appreciated the stretch-out to break her maiden going 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds December 29. She was a troubled third at the same venue in her first allowance attempt February 8, but cleared her entry-level condition convincingly there March 2. Although both her maiden and allowance wins came in off-the-turf events, in the slop or mud, she was effective on a fast surface here.
Bred by the William M. Backer Revocable Trust in Virginia, Out for a Spin is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Sweet Victory and stakes-placed Ferdinanda. They were produced by the Came Home mare My Mammy, a stakes-placed half-sister to 2005 Blue Grass (then a G1) victor Bandini. Descended from the matriarch *Rough Shod II via Moccasin, she hails from the same branch of the family as Stormy Atlantic.