Defining Purpose sprung a 20-1 upset in Friday’s Ashland (G1) at Keeneland, holding well-regarded rivals Punchbowl and Julia Shining safe in the stretch to score by a half-length. Kenny McPeek trains the gray daughter of Cross Traffic, and Defining Purpose completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.31 with Brian Hernandez Jr.
Winner of the Year’s End S. at Oaklawn on New Year’s Eve, Defining Purpose opened her three-year-old season with a third as the favorite in the Martha Washington S. and a sixth in the Honeybee (G3) on Feb. 25. She flattered the winner of those events, Wet Paint, who is the probable favorite for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 5.
“I’m not overly surprised,” McPeek said when asked about the upset win. “She had a couple of reasons why she fell off a little bit of form in her last two. She hooked a couple of muddy race tracks. The last trip (in the Honeybee), she had was really wide and wider.”
Defining Purpose is Kentucky Oaks-bound for owners Magdalena Racing (Sherry McPeek), Colette Marie Vanmatre, and James Ball. The Ashland awarded points on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis to the top five finishers as a major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series.
Effortlesslyelgant flashed speed from her outside post at the break, setting the pace at 34-1 on a short lead as Defining Purpose tracked in second. Defining Purpose advanced to challenge for the lead entering the far turn and gained the upper hand approaching the stretch drive, surging to a clear lead as she straightened for home.
Punchbowl, who was expected to show speed as the 1.26-1 favorite in her stakes debut, wound up stalking the moderate pace behind horses along the backstretch, and she angled out to offer a challenge at the top of the stretch. The favorite had every chance in-between horses, as Julia Shining grinded her way into a threatening position on the far outside, but Defining Purpose proved resolute to the wire.
“(Her early position) was great,” Hernandez said. “When she went around the first turn and got her position so nice and smoothly and settled into a nice rhythm, going down the backside I was just thinking to myself, ‘Be patient, just wait and wait and let her travel well.’ And that’s what she did. When she turned for home she kicked on, and with the short stretch to the sixteenth pole, I was pretty confident in her.”
Punchbowl wound up a neck better than 5-1 Julia Shining, and it was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Gun n’ Graces, who edged Effortlesslyelgant by a half-length for fourth. Champion juvenile filly and 1.53-1 second choice Wonder Wheel lacked a rally after stalking the pace, weakening to sixth, and Pride of the Nile trailed.
Bred in Kentucky by Vanmatre, Defining Purpose did not meet her reserve when bringing $14,000 as a short yearling as the 2021 Keeneland January sale. She’s the first starter from the multiple stakes-winning Strong Hope mare Defining Hope.