First Three Days of Keeneland Leave Us Ready For More
Opening Weekend Just A Glimpse At Exciting Meet
By Augusta Hosmer
The first day of the 2019 Keeneland spring meet kicked off on a beautiful sunny day and a rare Thursday, and a crowd of almost 12,000 united in the love of racing in the Bluegrass of central Kentucky. We were promised excitement, and we got it right out of the gate. Pun intended.
In the very firs race of he season, the Smarty Jones filly Mean Sophia demolished the field out of post two to win a $60,000 maiden special weight so concretely a man standing nearby on the rail exclaimed with a laugh, “Gee, you think the two horse won?” Racing fans then caught a glimpse of the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) favorite, Vekoma, schooling in the paddock before race 2. The chestnut looked relaxed, licking and chewing and surveying the packed paddock rail with a calm eye. Schoolers also drew a crowd as the Mark Casse-trained Ashland contender Chocolate Kisses — an absolute sweetheart of a horse and a barn favorite — visited the paddock with barn mate and Blue Grass contender Dream Maker before race three. The day rounded off with a victory by the undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Bulletin in the inaugural Palisades Turf Stakes in race 7.
The excitement carried over to Day two when we saw stunning chestnut Lady Pauline, a half-sister to the incomparable Lady Aurelia, stride into the winner’s circle following a wire-to-wire romp that made the grandstands of Keeneland shake with screams of, “she did it!” Watching the replay of the race, several members of the press wondered if someone had sped up her footage because of how differently she ran than those behind her. Her 9 ¾-length victory was decisive enough to make somone remark, “she might just be better than Lady Aurelia.” Here’s hoping she lives up to such a bold assertion and we can look forward to more great things from the daughter of Munnings.
Though always a fantastic day, Blue Grass Day on Saturday completely shattered expectations across the board. The attendance record for opening Saturday for both fall and spring meets was broken with close to 35,000 people coming through Keeneland’s gates for a card piled high with stakes races. For the Shakertown Stakes (GII), everyone was stunned with the effort put forth by Imprimis to overtake Bound For Nowhere in the final strides of the race and take the win in a photo finish – and that’s after stumbling hard at the start.
“What a special horse,” and, “Outstanding!” could be heard from other horses’ connections on the rail, but this was perhaps muffled by the delighted yells of, “That’s my boy!” from one of Imprimis’s grooms, who watched him run with a huge grin on his face and was all but floating when he approached the horse after the race.
But nothing could have prepared us for what happened two races later when 52-1 longshot Out for a Spin took the Ashland Stakes (GI) by storm to earn a place in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) at Churchill Downs in under a month. If Out for a Spin’s connections had a dollar for every time someone swore or said, “Oh my gosh,” they probably could have doubled the $500,000 purse they just earned. What a race to witness!
And finally, the epic conclusion for day three of Keeneland’s opening weekend, the ever-anticipated Blue Grass Stakes (GII). R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stable’s Vekoma, who shares a name with a famous manufacturer of roller coasters, took us on a ride that rivaled any theme park attraction to win by 3 ½ lengths over Win Win Win and Signalman. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano added a first Blue Grass win to his long list of Derby prep victories.
“Keeneland and this race are special to me,” George Weaver, Vekoma’s trainer, said. “He’s very, very smart. He knows what he’s here for. He knows how to move. He’ll give everything he’s got.”
Weaver is confident in his horse and his team, and confirmed Vekoma will be pointing to the Derby.
“I’m not going to change my program. I think it’s going to be pretty simple. The training part is easy as long as he’s healthy and doing fine. Just keep the horse happy, and he’ll run his race.”
Weaver is keeping his horse happy, and Keeneland is keeping its fans happy. One thing’s for certain, we’ll all be back in the upcoming weeks hungry for more.