by J. Keeler Johnson
In a thrilling drive to the Keeneland finish line, Blue Prize outbattled heavy favorite Elate to win the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1) on Sunday.
The betting public didn’t expect Blue Prize to prevail in the Spinster, even though she won the race in 2018. Sent off at 7-1, the six-year-old Argentinean-bred daughter of Pure Prize was overshadowed in the wagering by 7-10 favorite Elate, a five-time graded stakes winner using the Spinster as a stepping stone toward a possible rendezvous with males in the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.
But the Spinster – officially a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) – didn’t unfold as expected. With just five starters, the pace was slow as She’s a Julie hesitantly assumed the lead over Vexatious through fractions of :24.25, :48.63, and 1:13.12. Elate was content to track and race wide under rider Jose Ortiz, while Dunbar Road saved ground and Blue Prize trailed the compact field.
Turning for home, Elate advanced as expected, but failed to burst away from her rivals. She did forge to a narrow lead with a furlong remaining—at which point she, Dunbar Road, She’s a Julie, and Blue Prize were spread across the track just a neck apart—but she was clearly in deep water. Blue Prize, rallying smartly under jockey Joe Bravo, had all the momentum and gradually edged clear to defeat Elate by a half-length. She became the first two-time winner of the Spinster since Take Charge Lady (2002-03).
“(Blue Prize) means a lot to me,” said winning trainer Ignacio Correas IV, a native of Argentina. “The horses of my country have made me look good… To tell you that I thought I was going to beat Elate, I would be lying. I thought (Blue Prize) was sitting on a great race. She was coming into form… I thought if (Bravo) could relax her and if she had a target, she’s going to run big. Elate is a great, great mare.”
To Elate’s credit, she fought off Dunbar Road to hold second place by nearly a length, while She’s a Julie and Vexatious faded to trail the field. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:50.30.
“I think I was in a good position the whole way,” commented Ortiz. “(Elate) was very comfortable, and we were in a good rhythm. She just got beat.”
Two other Breeders’ Cup qualifiers were held on Sunday at Keeneland. In the 5 1/2-furlong, $200,000 Indian Summer Stakes, a stepping stone toward the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), the filly Kimari produced a sensational rally from last place to win by a half-length.
Patiently ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the Wesley Ward-trained filly broke slowly and fell eight lengths behind a fast opening quarter-mile of :21.74 seconds. But down the lane Kimari unleashed an explosive finish, gaining 3 3/4 lengths in the final furlong to outkick fellow deep closer Chimney Rock.
Kimari stopped the clock in 1:03.03 over a firm turf course and brought her career record to a near-perfect three-for-four. Her lone defeat came by a head in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) against international competition at Royal Ascot in England.
“She broke well in the race in England – and that’s the only race she broke well in,” Ward told Keeneland. “That’s really what I was concerned about. (Exercise rider) Julio Garcia has been breezing her from behind horses, knowing today that she’d probably break slow. Julio has been sitting back and coming around horses with her and kind of been teaching her to rate. I really didn’t think she was going to be that far back but thank God (Smith is) a cool sitter and a go-getter, and he rode a beautiful race.”
Ward indicated the Breeders’ Cup would be next on the agenda for Kimari, a daughter of Munnings owned by Ten Broeck Farm.
Later on the card, Peace Achieved parlayed a pace-tracking trip into a hard-fought triumph in the 1 1/16-mile, $250,000 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (G3), in the process securing a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G2).
With Miguel Mena in the saddle for trainer Mark Casse, Peace Achieved was always part of the pace as Field Pass carved out steady fractions of :23.20, :47.60, and 1:12.55. But after putting away the pacesetter at the top of the stretch, Peace Achieved was briefly headed by the ground-saving Gear Jockey, who sneaked through along the inside to snatch a narrow lead.
Even once Peace Achieved reclaimed the lead, he still had to brace for a late charge from race favorite Vitalogy, rallying fast from last place after racing wide throughout. The outcome was uncertain through the stretch, but with Vitalogy drifting in under pressure, Peace Achieved was able to preserve victory by a neck in 1:43.06.
Gear Jockey and Field Pass rounded out the top four in a race largely dominated by speed horses, except for Vitalogy. For Peace Achieved, the victory marked his third win in a row, following a maiden score at Ellis Park and a triumph in the Juvenile Stakes at Kentucky Downs.
“Horses are like anybody. You start winning, and it helps. He’s gotten better and better,” said Casse, who confirmed Peace Achieved would target the Breeders’ Cup. “I think he’ll like Santa Anita. I’m not going to bring him out until maybe a week before. We’ve had pretty good luck going west and most of the time it’s five or six days out (from the race) so we’re not going to change that.”
Brendan Walsh, trainer of Vitalogy, likewise has Breeders’ Cup aspirations for the Bourbon runner-up.
“(Vitalogy) was a little wide the whole way, and he traveled a lot farther than the winner. But he ran really good, and the whole objective was to get him into the Juvenile Turf. I think we probably would get in after today. Maybe we can go there and rectify it.