February 23, 2024

Kitodan upsets Dueling Grounds Derby; Vergara battles back in Dueling Grounds Oaks

Kitodan winning the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs (Photo by Coady Photography)

A pair of lucrative turf stakes for sophomores served as the highlights of an unexpected Labor Day card at Kentucky Downs.

The afternoon slate was originally scheduled for Sunday, but unsuitable weather prompted the entire card to be postponed by one day. The European-style turf course was labeled good and produced slow times, but the racing action was compelling, led by a dominant performance from Kitodan in the $750,000 Dueling Grounds Derby (G3).

The feature event took place over 1 5/16 miles with a dozen runners in the mix. Double Clutch carved out early fractions of :25.63, :52.29, and 1:17.62 while tracked by race favorite Ready to Purrform, but the pacesetters gave way down the homestretch as Kitodan swept into contention from ninth place. A bold rally under jockey Gerardo Corrales carried Kitodan to a one-length lead passing the eighth pole, and down the lane he widened his advantage to prevail by four lengths in 2:15.41.

Grand Sonata rallied up the rail to finish clearly second-best over Mount Rundle, followed by Always Above, Dripping Gold, Ready to Purrform, Speaking Scout, Double Clutch, Running Bee, Red Run, Tallahatchiebridge, and Western River.

Kitodan is trained by Eric Foster on behalf of Foster Family Racing, Douglas E. Miller, and William J. Wargel.

“After worrying all week about the weather and the turf, I just knew we had him ready,” Foster told Kentucky Downs. “Doug (Miller) always says, ‘I just want to be prepared for when everything goes right’ and I always repeat it back to him. With my guys, my partners, they don’t care to get beat. It doesn’t hurt them as bad as it does me and that helps me to do a better job. I just can’t hardly talk. I’ve never lost my voice like this, so apparently, I was pretty excited.”

Kitodan’s victory in the Dueling Grounds Derby surprised bettors who allowed the son of Point of Entry to start at 20-1, but those odds may have been a bit high, considering Kitodan previously won the Audubon S. and Rushaway S. on the Kentucky circuit this year.

In any case, the outcome of the $500,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks was considerably less surprising. While clear favorite New Year’s Eve produced only a mild rally from off the pace to finish fourth in the 1 5/16-mile event, Vergara was well-regarded at odds of 4.48-1 and ran even better than her backing with a tenacious victory.

From start to finish, Vergara performed impressively. Jockey Joel Rosario allowed the Graham Motion trainee to vie for the lead through fractions of :25.40, :50.67, and 1:16.11, considerably quicker than in the Dueling Grounds Derby. Vergara was passed at the five-sixteenths pole by the rallying Skims, but proved unwavering down the homestretch and battled back to win by a head in 2:14.95.

“She broke really well,” Rosario said. “I thought I was going to be laying second or third or whatever (for longer). But then she put herself in the front nicely. Just like Graham said, ‘Just let her be happy.’ And she was happy there. When that horse came to us, it looked like that horse would get by. But she was game and she came back and got ’em. She ran really well. Every step of the way, she was just there for me the whole time, relaxed, just looking around. I was just a passenger.”

There was a 2 1/2-length gap back to California Angel in third place, followed by New Year’s Eve, Beechnut Trophy, Turnerloose, Fancy Martini, Silverleaf, Sequist, Heavenly Hellos, and Princess Pauline.

Vergara races in the colors of Gary Broad and entered off a narrow defeat in the one-mile Ontario Colleen S. (G3) over the Woodbine turf course. Stretching out in distance clearly suited the stoutly bred daughter of Noble Mission, who may have a bright future in long-distance turf routes.

“It was great to have Joel ride her,” Motion said. “He gave her a super ride. I was concerned if she wanted to go that far, but clearly she handled the distance, no trouble. I’m tickled to win a race like that. It’s been a while since I’ve done that out there at Kentucky Downs.”

Racing at Kentucky Downs resumes on Thursday with the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint serving as the feature event.