Three graded stakes, three different running styles. A trio of Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series events took place on Sunday afternoon at Keeneland, with the winners employing a full gamut of strategies to claim top honors.
Pure front-running speed was understandably on display in the $150,000 Indian Summer S., a 5 1/2-furlong dash for 2-year-olds awarding a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2). The scratch of stakes winners Golden Pal and Wink left just six starters in the mix, and Bodenheimer promptly stole the show with a gate-to-wire victory.
Bodenheimer clearly enjoyed the firm turf at Keeneland more than the soft turf he encountered when finishing fifth in the Juvenile Turf Sprint S. at Kentucky Downs last month. Previously victorious in the Prairie Gold Juvenile S. on dirt at Prairie Meadows, Bodenheimer raced to the front through fast splits of :21.60 and :44.56, opened up a 3 1/2-length leading passing the eighth pole, and held off a late charge from Cowan to score by a length in 1:02.70.
Brian Hernandez rode the son of Atta Boy Roy for Valorie Lund, who trains Bodenheimer on behalf of owners Kristin Boice and Marylou Holden. Agog, Good With People, Roderick, and Petit Verdot trailed the field.
“We are so thrilled because this means we have an opportunity to take him to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Lund. “I’ve never had a 2-year-old that I thought early in the year was good enough. But when this colt started breezing, I thought ‘He is good enough’ so that is where we are going.”
Later on the card, Mutasaabeq employed precisely opposite tactics to claim the $200,000 Bourbon (G3) and a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Coming off a third-place effort in Saratoga’s Hopeful (G1) on dirt, the Todd Pletcher trainee failed to flash any early speed at all under jockey Luis Saez, trailing the 11-horse field through splits of :22.62, :47.09, and 1:12.24.
But Mutasaabeq was absolutely full of run down the homestretch, unleashing a massive rally on the extreme outside. Gaining seven lengths through the final five-sixteenths of a mile, the Shadwell Stable runner ultimately won for fun by 2 1/4 lengths, hitting the wire in 1:43.13. Abarta and Nathan Detroit likewise produced big rallies to finish second and third, followed by Into the Sunrise, Arrest Me Red, Private Island, Spyglass, Barrister Tom, Blame the Booze, Indy Tourist, and Really Slow.
“We broke a little slow. Last time he did the same thing, but I knew I had a lot of horse,” said Saez. “The distance was great for him. He was working so good on the turf. We knew what we had. When we came to the half-mile I was trying to (decide) where we were going to go—inside or out—but inside we had so many horses. I felt like I had the horse to go out and let him roll. When he came to the straight, he just took off. He did it easy.”
Finally, Valiance split the difference in terms of running styles to prevail in the $400,000 Spinster (G1), giving Pletcher and Saez a graded stakes double. Content to settle in midpack as Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Shedaresthedevil set bold fractions of :23.62, :46.97, and 1:10.85, Valiance rallied to take command in the stretch, then dug deep to stem off a late challenge from Ollie’s Candy and prevail by three-quarters of a length.
“That was the plan to let those fillies go on the lead and see if we can catch them,” said Saez. “Everything came so perfect, the way we planned it. When we came to the straight, it was a battle but she did it pretty good, and she fired and won the race.”
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Martin S. Schwartz, and CHC Inc., Valiance reached the finish line in 1:49.76 for 1 1/8 miles, in the process locking up a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Shedaresthedevil weakened to finish third, followed by Lady Kate, Saracosa, and Our Super Freak.
Although a stakes winner on turf, Valiance has shown significant improvement since transitioning to dirt, winning an off-the-turf renewal of Monmouth Park’s Eatontown S. before ascending even higher in the Spinster. An even greater target—the Distaff over the same track and distance as the Spinster—now looms on the horizon.
“If she trains accordingly, that will be the goal,” said Pletcher.
And with her improving profile, victory in the Distaff could be well within reach.