Talented two-year-old Thoroughbreds had an opportunity to shine in a pair of early-season stakes on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Bashford Manor S. (G3)
Visually speaking, the star of the show was Double Thunder, an explosive winner of the six-furlong Bashford Manor S. (G3). North America’s first graded stakes of the year for juveniles drew a field of 10, with Double Thunder starting as the 41-10 second choice off a debut victory sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs at Monmouth Park.
Stepping up in class and distance proved to be no obstacle for Double Thunder. The Todd Pletcher trainee broke slowly and settled dead last as Lansdowne dashed to the front through rapid fractions of :21.00 and :45.30. But Double Thunder started rolling at the top of the stretch and hit high gear down the lane, gobbling up ground to score by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:11.17.
Vodka N Water likewise rallied from off the pace to gain the runner-up spot by a nose over the pace-tracking Glacial. Knocker Down, Red Run, Shesgotattitude, Lansdowne, Whistlewhileyoumow, Whatstheconnection, and Tapped Off completed the order of finish.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez rode Double Thunder to victory and praised the way his mount handled adversity.
“I didn’t think we would break as slow as he did so we had to adjust a little bit after the start. Once I got to the quarter-pole I had a lot of confidence in him and thought we had a big shot,” said Velazquez. “I knew there would be a lot of speed in the race and wanted to keep him close—just not last. You don’t expect a two-year-old to handle things like that as well as he did. He took dirt and handled it well and I think he can move forward a lot from that.”
Certainly Double Thunder’s pedigree is geared toward long-term success. Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, the Phoenix Thoroughbred colorbearer is a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver out of the Tapit mare Rattataptap. Stretching out in distance and improving with maturity are both possibilities for the gray colt.
But although Double Thunder made a strong visual impression, the filly Behave Virginia ran significantly faster when battling to victory in the six-furlong Debutante S. one race prior. Her margin of victory wasn’t as large—just one length—but her final time of 1:09.83 was eye-catching.
Whereas Double Thunder benefited from a fast early/slow late race shape, Behave Virginia was never far off quick fractions in the Debutante. Under jockey Brian Hernandez, Behave Virginia rated a few lengths behind splits of :21.11 and :44.61 established by Wicked Halo, gradually edging closer around the turn. After shifting outside for racing room, Behave Virginia gamely wore down Wicked Halo and turned back a bid from Ontheonesandtwos to prevail in a driving finish.
“She’s a really talented filly to be able to sit behind some pretty good horses like that and win the way she did,” said Hernandez. “When the spot opened up, she went through like an old professional would. It’s a testament of how good she is. She answered a lot of questions today and we are very proud of her.”
Ontheonesandtwos edged Wicked Halo by a half-length for second place, while the latter pulled 12 1/4 lengths clear of distant fourth-place finisher Tizplenty. Classiness, Catchusifyoucan, Compressed Energy, and Mollie Kate trailed the field.
Bred in Kentucky by Khalid Mishref Alkahtani, Behave Virginia is conditioned by Kenny McPeek, who has now won three of the last four editions of the Debutante. Lucky Seven Stable campaigns the daughter of Unified, who was produced by the Mineshaft mare She’s Behaving. Having previously won her debut at Churchill Downs, Behave Virginia now boasts a perfect 2-for-2 record.
“Typically we don’t crank our horses to win first time out,” noted McPeek. “Usually when they win first out it’s because they do it on their own talent. That’s what she did. She reminds me of (three-time Grade 1 winner) Take Charge Lady with her early ability on the racetrack. I think we may have seen a Breeders’ Cup contender.”
McPeek indicated the Alcibiades S. (G1) at Keeneland in October is the next major target for Behave Virginia, though in the meantime, a trip to New York could be in the cards.
“I’ll probably take her to Saratoga with me this summer just so I can keep an eye on her,” said McPeek.