December 2, 2020

Rocketry, Highly Motivated among impressive stakes winners on Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard

Rocketry winning the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) - Keeneland Photo
Rocketry winning the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) - Keeneland Photo

A mixture of logical favorites and surprising longshots took center stage in the five undercard stakes races on Breeders’ Cup Friday at Keeneland.

The action kicked off with the $125,000 Nyquist S., a 6 1/2-furlong dash for 2-year-olds. In a race that could potentially serve as an early steppingstone toward the 2021 Kentucky Derby, 13-5 favorite Highly Motivated settled 2 1/2 lengths behind early splits of :21.73 and :44.65 before pouncing decisively to the front under jockey Javier Castellano, dominating by 4 1/4 lengths in the track-record time of 1:14.99.

Trained by Chad Brown, the Klaravich Stables homebred had previously finished second and first in a pair of maiden sprints on the New York circuit. The son of Into Mischief is bred like a sprinter, but he clearly has abundant talent and warrants watching through the winter and beyond.

The $125,000 Songbird S. served as a corresponding prize for 2-year-old fillies, and the outcome was similarly eye-catching. Frizette (G1) fourth-place finisher Joy’s Rocket clearly relished dropping down in class and distance, carving out fractions of :21.93 and :44.97 before kicking clear to score by three lengths in 1:16.18.

Ridden by Ricardo Santana and conditioned by Steve Asmussen on behalf of Team Hanley and Parkland Thoroughbreds, the daughter of Anthony’s Cross returned $19.00 as an overlooked 8-1 shot in the betting.

An even greater shock came in the $150,000 Bryan Station S., a 1 1/8-mile turf test for 3-year-olds. American Turf (G2) winner Fancy Liquor was always prominent, dueling for the lead through splits of :23.29, :47.45, and 1:12.44. But in a thrilling battle that saw the first eight finishers cross the wire just 1 1/2 lengths apart, 74-1 shot Ever Dangerous—ridden by Javier Castellano and owned in partnership by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and R. A. Hill Stable—unleashed a dramatic late surge to beat Fancy Liquor by half a length in 1:48.74.

Fresh off an allowance win at Belmont Park, Ever Dangerous was only allowed to start after two scratches pulled him in off the also-eligible list. Having added a gutsy stakes win to his resume, you can bet the George Weaver-trained son of Kitten’s Joy won’t be a 74-1 outsider next time he runs.

Chalk players left reeling by the result of the Bryan Station received a consolation when 29-10 favorite Amy’s Challenge delivered a comfortable score in the $150,000 McConnell Springs S. for fillies and mares. Sprinting straight to the lead with Jose Lezcano aboard, the Grade 1-placed mare fired off fractions of :22.01 and :44.80 before cruising home on top by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:09.17.

McLean Robertson trains the 5-year-old daughter of Artie Schiller, who races in the silks of Novogratz Racing Stables. Friday’s triumph marked Amy’s Challenge’s first stakes win since claiming Oaklawn Park’s Spring Fever S. in Mar. 2019, suggesting the speedy front-runner is finally rounding back into top form.

But longshots returned to the spotlight in the $200,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2), formerly known as the Marathon. Steady early fractions of :24.40, :48.52, and 1:13.59 proved favorable to 11-1 shot Rocketry, who rallied boldly from dead last to secure his first victory since the 2018 Marathon. Argentinean Group 1 winner Mirinaque (33-1) outran expectations to finish second, a length behind the winner and a length clear of pacesetter Dack Janiel (53-1).

Owned by Centennial Farms and ridden by Irad Ortiz, Rocketry completed the 1 5/8-mile race in 2:42.57. The 6-year-old son of Hard Spun has shown remarkable durability under the care of trainer Jimmy Jerkens, accumulating $789,710 over the course of 26 starts. Scoring a second victory in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance/Marathon has restored Rocketry’s ranking as North America’s leading long-distance dirt runner.