December 1, 2023

Liberal Arts, West Sunset spring surprises in Street Sense, Rags to Riches

Liberal Arts wins the 2023 Street Sense (G3) at Churchill Downs (Coady Photography)

Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) contenders took center stage on opening day of the Churchill Downs fall meet, and surprising results unfolded over a sloppy track.

The $200,000 Street Sense S. (G3), a 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier worth 10-5-3-2-1 points to the top five finishers, went off with five starters following the scratches of Barksdale, Generous Tipper, and Parchment Paper. Bettors landed on runaway Aqueduct maiden winner Moonlight as the 1.24-1 favorite, but at the finish line it was Liberal Arts who prevailed as the 6-1 longest shot on the board.

A patient ride from jockey Cristian Torres helped carry Liberal Arts to first place. Early fractions of :23.73 and :47.93 set by Gettysburg Address proved destructive over the sloppy going; as the pace decelerated sharply around the far turn and down the homestretch, Liberal Arts finished fastest from last place and stormed past the leaders to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:46.50.

“This horse really has improved as the distances got longer,” said Torres. “Turning for home today I just had a ton of horse beneath me and I think he really appreciated going two turns. I got him to relax on the backside and he won like a professional today.”

Moonlight closed ground from fourth position to finish second, but couldn’t outkick Liberal Arts in the drive. Informed Patriot held for third place after leading in midstretch, while Gettysburg Address faded to fourth and Northern Flame trailed the field.

A son of Arrogate bred and owned by Evan Ferraro and Stephen Ferraro, Liberal Arts is trained by Robert Medina. The gray colt entered the Street Sense off a third-place finish in Churchill’s Iroquois (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which means Liberal Arts currently ranks atop the Kentucky Derby qualification leaderboard with a total of 13 points.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to get longer distances until the fall so we made sure this horse had some experience under his belt but knew he’d appreciate the stretch out,” said Medina. “Going two turns today I think was the key. He’s made five starts this year and talking with the ownership group the plan is now to lay him up until next year and point to some of the big three-year-old races.”

Earlier in the afternoon, the $200,000 Rags to Riches S. awarded Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualification points on a 10-5-3-2-1 split to the top five finishers. Following the scratches of Shimmering Allure and Twirling Good Time, only five fillies faced the starter in the 1 1/16-mile contest.

The heavy favorite at 0.19-1 was V V’s Dream, previously victorious in the Pocahontas (G3) and runner-up in the Alcibiades (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. The Kenny McPeek trainee had been pre-entered in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita, but opted to stay home at Churchill Downs for the Rags to Riches.

To the surprise of bettors, V V’s Dream failed to mount a serious challenge, breaking slowly and trailing the field early before rallying only mildly to finish third by 9 1/2 lengths. In the meantime, 7-1 longshot West Sunset stole the show on the front end, leading by daylight through slow splits of :24.23, :48.99, and 1:13.52 before kicking away under jockey Flavien Prat to beat stablemate Gin Gin by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:46.31. Candy Landy and Floored completed the order of finish.

West Sunset’s Rags to Riches upset marked a complete departure from the style of her Sept. 16 debut victory sprinting six furlongs against maiden special weight company at Churchill Downs. On that occasion, the daughter of West Coast raced in 10th position early before gobbling up ground in the homestretch to prevail by a neck.

“It always felt like I had a lot of horse beneath me,” said Prat of his ride in the Rags to Riches. “She was pretty straightforward when she left the gate and I got her to relax a little bit on the lead. Turning for home I was confident she’d have enough left in the tank to continue strong.”

Brad Cox trains West Sunset on behalf of owners Gary and Mary West, who also bred the bay filly.

“(West Sunset) was a little anxious in the paddock but hopefully that will get better the more mature she gets,” said Cox. “She broke really well and Flavien got her to relax a little bit on the backside which helped her. I’m glad I ran her in this spot. I almost shipped her to Aqueduct to run in a stakes there next week. Hopefully with some more seasoning this is a filly we can dream of running in the Kentucky Oaks.”