Last year, a dominant display in the First Lady Stakes (G1) at Keeneland launched Uni to an Eclipse Award-clinching victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Now the Chad Brown mare is back on course for a Breeders’ Cup title defense after turning an otherwise quiet season around in Saturday’s $343,000 renewal, and becoming the first two-time winner of the First Lady.
“I was so stressed out,” co-owner Sol Kumin told Keeneland publicity. “If she doesn’t run well here you couldn’t run her back in the Breeders’ Cup after the year she had. Now you run her back, same track, four weeks and you feel like she might be back. Chad said her last two breezes, he felt like she was circling back to the form she had last year so we were hopeful. But until you see it, you just don’t know. Just an incredible filly.”
Uni had gone winless in her two starts since the 2019 Mile. Her timetable delayed by a splint issue, the 6-year-old mare resumed with a respectable third behind stablemate Newspaperofrecord and Beau Recall in the June 27 Just a Game (G1). Uni next tried the Fourstardave (G1) versus males at the Spa, but found it too difficult to make an impact from far off the pace controlled by Halladay and wound up seventh.
Renewing rivalry with Newspaperofrecord and Beau Recall at Keeneland, an Uni at the peak of her powers was an entirely different proposition. The early tempo came from 37-1 longshot Crystal Lake, who zoomed past even-money favorite Newspaperofrecord through an opening quarter in :23.89 and widened her lead at the half in :47.92.
Newspaperofrecord, typically a front runner, went with the flow on hold in second. Throwing down her challenge on the far turn, she headed the leader through 6 furlongs in 1:12.48 despite going wide into the stretch.
But cruising into contention was the Uni, who had been parked in third by Joel Rosario. Newspaperofrecord tried to fend her off down the lane, in an attempt to answer the question about her proficiency these days around two turns. The answer turned out to be negative.
The further they went, the more irresistible Uni’s rally, until the favorite succumbed. Uni, the 2.40-1 second choice, drew one length clear to finish the mile in 1:34.90. She still owns the course record of 1:32.87 from last year’s First Lady.
Beau Recall flashed home late to nip Newspaperofrecord for second. Dalika, who stumbled at the start, checked in another four lengths astern in fourth, and Crystal Lake trailed. Daddy Is a Legend was scratched.
The First Lady is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), but Uni will stick to the Mile that suits her so well.
“Her last race for us will be the Breeders’ Cup (Mile) against the boys,” Kumin said, “and if she is able to do it again, it would be Hall of Fame good.”
Campaigned by Michael Dubb, Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, Robert V. LaPenta, and Bethlehem Stables, Uni has amassed $2,584,872 in earnings from a 20-11-2-4 line. The daughter of More Than Ready has won 10 stakes, the first coming in the 2017 Prix Matchem I France. Four of them are Grade 1s – the 2018 Matriarch (G1) along with her two First Lady trophies and the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Notable among her handful of stakes placings are the 2017 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) in her U.S. debut and last year’s Fourstardave.
“I’m just so happy,” Kumin said. “This year was tough. When you bring these horses back at this age, you sort of question yourself of ‘did we do the right thing?’ She seemed like she had been doing well the last couple of months so we felt like we did the right thing. Today obviously you feel like we did right by her. Hopefully she can give us one more big effort. If not, she’s given us everything we could have ever asked for.”
Uni is slated to sell at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November the day after the Breeders’ Cup. Bred by Haras d’Etreham in Great Britain, the chestnut is out of the Dansili mare Unaided, from the family of successful sires Invincible Spirit and Kodiac.
Earlier, last-out Shakertown (G2) hero Leinster completed the double of Keeneland’s major turf sprints in the $150,000 Woodford Stakes (G2), both held over the same 5 1/2-furlong trip as the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Trained by Rusty Arnold and ridden by Luis Saez, the 2.90-1 favorite stalked pacesetter Just Might through splits of :21.90 and :44.44, collared him in midstretch, and held the closing Extravagant Kid by a half-length. Leinster clocked 1:01.59, a bit off his Shakertown course record of 1:00.86 when Keeneland’s surfaces were playing exceptionally fast in the July heat.
Just Might kept third from Chaos Theory. Next came Fast Boat, Chaps, Real News, Citrus Burst, and 95-1 shot Win Lion Win.
Leinster, who was runner-up in last year’s Woodford, is now 2-for-3 on the Keeneland turf. The son of Majestic Warrior sports an overall mark of 22-5-6-4, $614,211, but his career took off after switching from D. Wayne Lukas to Arnold. Finding his niche as a turf sprinter, Leinster captured last summer’s Troy (G3) in course-record time at Saratoga and placed in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3) prior to the Woodford. Plans called for a return visit to Kentucky Downs last month, but Leinster missed it.
“We had a little setback – he had a foot problem,” Arnold said. “We actually were going to run him at Kentucky Downs. We didn’t get to run. Maybe it’s a blessing because he stayed right here on his home track. He got to work on this turf course a couple of times – I think that’s a big edge. Worked out good.”
A half-brother to two-time Turf Sprint champion Stormy Liberal, Leinster will try again to put their dam, the Royal Academy mare Vassar, in rare company for producing two Breeders’ Cup winners. His attempt in last year’s Turf Sprint resulted in a seventh at Santa Anita, but Keeneland gives him a better shot. Vassar is also responsible for Grade 1-placed sire Coast Guard, multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Shimmering Moment, and stakes-placed Garifine.
Bred by Gryphon Investments in Kentucky, Leinster sold for $85,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling and RNA’d for $75,000 at the same firm’s Midlantic May Sale as a juvenile. The 5-year-old races for Amy Dunne, Brenda Miley, Westrock Stables, and Jean Wilkinson.