Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. captured both of Saturday’s turf stakes at Keeneland aboard favorites. Odds-on In Italian controlled the $511,125 Jenny Wiley (G1) from start to finish, and Twilight Gleaming revealed a new tactical dimension in the $214,650 Giant’s Causeway S.
Jenny Wiley (G1)
Just denied in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in her 2022 finale over this course, Peter Brant’s In Italian likely lost at the same time her chance at a divisional Eclipse Award. With this sparkling seasonal debut, the Chad Brown trainee issued a statement of intent for 2023.
Brown was racking up his sixth Jenny Wiley. Three of his past winners have gone on to earn champion turf female honors – Sistercharlie (2018), Rushing Fall (2020), and Regal Glory (2022), whose overall body of work ended up outweighing In Italian’s in the Eclipse balloting.
Between her class, connections, and her role as controlling speed, In Italian went off as the 3-4 favorite, and the Dubawi mare performed up to expectations. The front runner was in a comfortable rhythm through fractions of :23.63, :47.29, and 1:10.66 on the firm course. Although Queen Goddess was perched in a close second, In Italian always appeared to have her measure, and she duly blasted away down the stretch. In Italian extended her margin to three lengths while completing 1 1/16 miles in a swift 1:39.71.
Charlie Appleby shipper With the Moonlight didn’t drop as far back as stablemate Modern Games did in Friday’s Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), where he made belated headway behind ultra-impressive upsetter Chez Pierre. Godolphin jockey William Buick adapted by keeping in range early, yet the result was the same. With the Moonlight settled for second-best, wearing down White Frost, who did as well as possible in third under a heady Frankie Dettori ride.
“Great trip,” Buick said of With the Moonlight’s passage. “The winner was just too good, but she ran a really good race. The winner set nice fractions. We weren’t going slow. The winner isn’t a horse you want to give too much rope, and you can see the track’s running pretty fast.”
Dettori made very similar comments.
“Great trip – we were behind the winner,” Dettori said. “I found a shot turning for home, but the winner was too good. Simple as that; she tried hard for me, no complaints.”
Skims and Pizza Bianca were outpaced in fourth and fifth, respectively, while Queen Goddess retreated to last. Brown scratched his other entrant, Speak of the Devil, and also withdrawn were Henrietta Topham and Freedom Speaks.
Ortiz knew right away that In Italian was in the zone.
“She broke quick out of the gate and then she relaxed. Her ears were up. She does that all the time,” her rider said. “I was confident. The trainer told me just to go to the lead. She broke so good, I tried to relax her going into the first turn, and she switched off. That was key. After that, on the backside if somebody gets close to her, I can let her do her thing, because I know I have plenty in the tank. She was nice. She deserves all the credit. She got the job done.”
In Italian’s scorecard stands at 10-6-3-1, $1,635,308, including Keeneland’s First Lady (G1) and a course-record tour de force in the Diana (G1) at Saratoga. The late-developing chestnut captured her stakes debut in the 2022 Honey Fox (G3), followed by placings in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and Just a Game (G1) (to Regal Glory).
Bred by Fairway Thoroughbreds in Great Britain, In Italian sold for about $610,171 as a Tattersalls October yearling. The five-year-old was produced by the Redoute’s Choice mare Florentina, an Australian Group 3 winner who descends from a close relative of her own sire. Thus Florentina is closely inbred to both Danehill (2×3) influential matron Dancing Show (3×3).
Giant’s Causeway S.
On the day that Stonestreet sponsored the Lexington (G3), Barbara Banke’s operation celebrated a stakes-record victory by 2.77-1 favorite Twilight Gleaming in the Giant’s Causeway. The Wesley Ward pupil had been beaten in both prior attempts at 5 1/2 furlongs, but she’s returned a stronger model at the age of four.
Indeed, Twilight Gleaming had yet to score beyond a flat five furlongs. All of her wins had come at that distance, notably the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and Prix de la Valle d’Auge as well as last season’s Mamzelle S. and Daisycutter H. The stiff five of the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot caught her out, for she was overhauled late in second. So did the extra half-furlong in her appearances at Keeneland in 2022, where she was runner-up in the Palisades S. and fourth in the Oct. 16 Franklin (G3) last time out.
Along with physical maturity, the key was Twilight Gleaming’s ability to stalk and pounce. Instead of grabbing the lead and going all out to hang on, the Irish-bred was happy to track Miner’s Queen through an opening quarter in :21.68. Twilight Gleaming began to gear up passing the half in :44.39, and she kicked 1 1/2 lengths clear in 1:01.74.
Querobin Dourada, the 87-1 longest shot on the board, closed furiously to head Star Devine in a blanket finish for the minors. Ward’s other runner, Happy Soul, was another neck back in fourth. Next came Little Jewel; Mamba Wamba, the first also-eligible who drew in; Minaun and Miner’s Queen in a dead-heat seventh; Oeuvre; Opening Buzz; Train to Artemus; and Creative Credit. Amy C was a high-profile scratch, and the remaining also-eligibles, Sarah Harper and Fast Giselle, stayed in the barn.
“Wesley gave me the confidence,” Ortiz said of Twilight Gleaming’s tactics from post 9. “He told me he’d been working the filly off the pace, and she’d been training so well with (exercise rider) Julio (Garcia), so he told me, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Ride her however you want. She has speed but don’t be afraid of anything.’
“She broke sharp, and the horse beside me broke better than me, so I was just stalking there second, waiting, biding my time. When I turned for home, I just let her do her thing and she did the rest. She deserves all the credit. She was ready. Wesley did a great job.”
Twilight Gleaming was giving the Stonestreet/Ward tandem a turf sprint stakes double following stablemate Love Reigns in Friday’s Limestone S. Ward credited Ian Brennan for having the comebackers in grand shape before they arrived in his barn.
“Both of them came from Ian Brennan down at Barbara Banke’s farm in Ocala (Florida), and he had them really ready to go,” the trainer said. “We talked about it before they got here, so I just kind of backed off of them once they got here, and once they got to Kentucky, out of the heat there in Ocala, they just started to blossom. I gave them a couple of easy works and brought them over here, and away we go.
“To have a stakes record in this race – there’s been a lot of great fillies that have run in it – that really says a lot.”
As high-class turf sprinters who’ve tried Royal Ascot before, Twilight Gleaming and Love Reigns are under consideration for another tilt at the June festival. Ward mentioned that the five-furlong King’s Stand (G1) would suit both, but Love Reigns has more options as a sophomore.
Twilight Gleaming advanced her record to 10-6-3-0, $906,634. Bred by Pier House Stud in Ireland, the bay was purchased for about $88,110 as a Goffs Orby yearling. Twilight Gleaming, from the first crop of the Invincible Spirit stallion National Defense, is out of the Dansili mare Thames Pageant. Her dam, a half-sister to Group 3 hero Reach for the Moon, was bred by the late Queen Elizabeth II from a productive royal family.