Video interviews with winners will be posted later on Kentucky Downs’ Youtube Channel.
FRANKLIN, Ky. — Opening day of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs saw Adventuring carrying the world-famous royal-blue silks of Godolphin to a front-running victory in the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks while giving jockey Joel Rosario his fourth of five wins. That was followed by Pavel Matejka winning the biggest race of his training career as Accredit also went wire-to-wire to the $750,000 Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby, rewarding his ecstatic team with a big $75 win payoff under jockey Martin Garcia.
A Churchill Downs allowance winner, Accredit was second in Arlington’s American Derby as the favorite and a close fourth in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Dueling Grounds Derby. Matejka has a farm by his The Thoroughbred Center stable in Lexington, and he had Accredit gallop up and down his undulating fields. That gave him confidence that the son of Flatter would like Kentucky Downs’ course, with its subtle changes in elevation.
Matejka wanted Accredit in the clear, which Garcia did by being in front and setting a leisurely pace over turf that started the day firm but was downgraded to yielding with intermittent light rain early in the afternoon. Yes This Time, with 2020 meet leader Tyler Gaffalione aboard, was in striking position but was unable to threaten the winner and finished second by a length. Accredit covered 1 5/16 miles in 2:10.58.
“Martin did a great job to get him out and in the clear” after breaking on the rail, Matejka said. “Every time he’s in a spot like that, he’s hard to pass. We didn’t want to get the one hole, and we did. But he did great. The last couple of races, he just didn’t have a very good trip. He got stuck behind horses, nowhere to go, and today it turned out perfect. It was a great ride. This is a free-running horse. No traffic and he’ll give you his best.
“He’s a nice horse, and we’ve always liked him. When he gets his trip, I think he can run with anyone. When he was turning for home in the lead, we were very confident. We have a private gallop, a half-mile grass gallop, that is uphill and downhill. That’s where he was training the last couple of weeks, and we knew that he liked it. That made us confident he would like it.”
Garcia jumped out to a two-length lead and pretty much kept it throughout, even while getting away with a half-mile in 49.03 seconds, six furlongs in 1:14.31 and the mile in 1:39.56. He paid $75 to win, going off as the fourth-longest shot in the field of 11 3-year-olds.
“When he ran last time at Ellis, he broke OK, not sharp as he did today,” said Garcia. “I was on the rail. I didn’t want to get stuck. I was in the lead and tried to run away, so he could be comfortable and happy. When I asked, he just keep going, and I don’t think any horse is going to go by him this time.”
Matejka’s jubilant family and crew ran toward the winner’s circle in celebration, in particular assistant trainer Ellen Pike.
“It was really incredible, because we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into these horses,” she said. “And he’s a special horse. He’s a very honest horse, and he’ll give you everything he’s got. He’s also a very free-running horse. He doesn’t like to be stuck on the rail, doesn’t like to be stuck behind horses. As soon as he got the early lead and kept a decent pace and was able to withstand the up and down the hills, to see him really push home was incredibly exciting and incredibly rewarding for the work we’ve put into him.”
It was the third overall stakes win for Matejka, this easily the biggest purse. He also won the $400,000, Grade 3 Commonwealth Derby at Colonial Downs in 2015 with One Go All Go — who went off at 35-1.
Accredit picked up $437,050 for his efforts and now has earned $572,619 for owner Bob Grayson Jr. of California, with the trainer a minority owner.
“He said he was screaming the whole trip; he was really happy,” Matejka said of Grayson, who called shortly after the race. “I think all family and friends and everybody else was helping. And they’re all happy now, celebrating. It’s a huge win for everyone. We work hard, and it’s a small stable. These races don’t come every week for us, so we try to celebrate and enjoy while we can. This is a big win for us.”
Gaffalione, riding Yes This Time for New York-based trainer Kelly Breen, said he got a perfect trip.
“The winner just got loose on the lead by himself, and got brave out there,” he said. “But it was a huge effort by my horse today. We just didn’t win.”
Said Breen: “He tried right through the wire. Maybe with a couple more jumps, we would have got it. But I’m proud of him. I thought there was going to be more speed, but apparently not today. The jock (Garcia) did a good job, he walked the dog out there, and got the lead all by himself. I don’t want to tip my hat to him, because he beat us. But he rode a smart race, and I was happy that our horse was running at the end.”
It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Cellist, followed by Modern Science, Red Hornet, Grey Streak, Hilliard, Du Jour, Last Samurai, In Effect and Palazzi. Royal Prince scratched in favor of a stakes at Indiana Grand.
Du Jour, the 9-5 favorite under Rosario, was never a factor in finishing eighth at 9-5 odds.
“He broke OK but I had a hard time to keep him going with the surface a little bit soft,” Rosario said. “I thought he would lay a little more forward. Just try next time.”
Adventuring takes DG Oaks for Rosario’s fourth of five wins
Godolphin homebred Adventuring, sent off as the even-money favorite, didn’t disappoint as she scored a front-running, 1 3/4-length victory in the $500,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the Sept. 5 opening-day program at Kentucky Downs.
With Joel Rosario aboard, the daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, out of the Hard Spun mare Questing, Adventuring turned back several challenges in the 1 5/16-mile test on the track labeled yielding from a day of occasional showers.
“The soft turf didn’t seem to bother her at all,” said Rosario, who has been one of the hot riders this summer at Saratoga in New York. “She was comfortable, and kept going the whole time.”
From the start in front of the stands for the seven-filly field, Rosario quickly plotted his route to victory, in 2:12.33.
“She broke well, and there was not that much speed,” he said. “So, she was able to get up in the race a little bit. There was a horse coming inside, but she was happy out there.”
Viburnum, sent off at 22-1 with Adam Beschizza riding, could not keep up with the winner down the stretch, but still was 3 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Oliviaofthedesert, a 16-1 show with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.
“She ran great,” Beschizza said. “First time stepping up to that distance. I thought she handled it good.”
But on this day, just not as well as Adventuring. “He was always a couple of lengths in front of me,” Beschizza said. “But it’s not like he accelerated away from me. … No one was making up any ground on that soft stuff.”
“The whole time,” Rosario said, “when I asked her a little bit, she was there for me. She just galloped, galloped, galloped, and she got better and better.”
Jorge Abrego, assistant trainer to Brad Cox, was pleased with Adventuring’s performance.
“She showed up today, and it was a tremendous win,” he said. “I’m very happy for this filly. … And the fractions today, Joel did a very good job, put her in a very good spot. It’s all very good.”
It was the second straight win in the stakes for Godolphin and Rosario, who rode the Michael Stidham-trained Micheline to victory last year.
Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA, indicated that Adventuring is showing some of her potential with her third win in six starts this year.
“When it comes to horses for courses, she seemed to handle it exceptionally well, especially since this was obviously her first time over an undulating course – uphill, downhill, turns, and she just took to it like duck to water,” he said.
What left his most pleased was how she looked at the end of the race.
“She won with a little bit left in the tank, with her ears pricked, just as you like to see it,” he said. “The distance was certainly no problem, and Joel gave her a lovely ride. He stayed up in the good part of the track.
“She’s had quite a few attempts at getting to the turf. She’s shown quite an affinity to it, and is well-bred for it. Overall, it was a very professional effort.”
Adventuring was intended to start her career on turf, but ran into three straight races where it was taken off the grass at the Fair Grounds last winter. She now has won on dirt, synthetic (taking Turfway Park’s Bourbonette Stakes) and turf. Adventuring was a decent fifth in Churchill Downs’ Tepin Stakes and third by a total of a half-length in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks.
As the even-money favorite, Adventuring paid $4.20, $2.80 and $2.60. Viburnum returned $13.80 and $8.20, with Oliviaofthedesert paying $6 for show.
Bell said where Adventuring goes next is up in the air and will talk it over with Cox.
“I know Brad was looking forward to this race,” Bell said. “He thought the distance would be no problem whatsoever. She’s just a very athletic, very balanced filly, and she showed that today. That course demands that.”
Added Abrego: “It was very good for her, to make her a stakes winner, especially here at Kentucky Downs.”
Bell also gave credit to the track. “They’ve done a great job down here, it’s a great atmosphere, with top-end racing,” he said. “Obviously you’ve got some great horses coming in for these races, and top jocks, so it makes for just a very festivious afternoon with some really top-end racing – where everybody can come out and enjoy themselves and see some really, really good racing.”
(Photos: Godolphin’s Accrediting winning the Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks under Joel Rosario, who finished the day with five wins. Coady Photography photos
Sharp wins three (almost four) on card — and survives a scare
Trainer Joe Sharp scored three victories on the 11-race opening-day program, including the daily double. Sharp kicked off the six-day meet by sending 9-1 Evie’s Prince ($20.20), with Adam Beschizza aboard, to a neck victory, followed by a more comfortable 1 3/4-length win by 9-5 favorite Misthaven ($5.60), with Rosario riding. Sharp also finished second by a neck in the eighth race with 11-1 shot Azamana Empire.
After winning the second race with Misthaven, Rosario went on to capture nearly half the program – a five-win performance. He captured the fifth race with 5-1 Americanus ($12.80), a neck in front of 9-1 Shackleford’s Joy, then followed that with a 1 3/4-length win aboard Vivar ($3) as the odds-on favorite in the sixth. Rosario rounded out his day with a 1 3/4-length win with favorite Adventuring ($4.20) in the co-featured Dueling Grounds Oaks, then closed the card by winning the finale by 4 1/4 lengths with 2-1 favorite Cruz Bay ($7.60).
But Sharp had a scary moment afterward when Rosario jumped off as Cruz Bay was galloping back to be unsaddled. A relieved Sharp watched with the state veterinarian as Cruz Bay walked back and forth before loading onto the horse ambulance with no seeming issue.
“She walked up great,” he said. “She looked like she stung her foot, because everything was ice cold. An initial observation is that she might have bruised her foot, because everything else looked good. They’re letting her cool out in the test barn on her own, like normal. They gave her a ride just as a precaution.
“It was a great day. Obviously we’re always happy to come down here and do well. We always target this meet and we’re very grateful for them keeping it going, keeping the purse structure alive like they have for all these years. Man, it’s been a whirlwind of a day for sure. It was great. That shook me up a little bit, I’m not going to lie. You always worry, especially with a nice filly like that, but she seems no worse for wear.”
Said Rosario: “She pulled up fine. Just coming back, galloping a little bit, and I felt a little something and went to jog and I decided to jump off.”
Rosario said he dismounted as a precaution. Of his big day, the jockey said; “It’s great to be here. I’m very happy and thanks to everybody who give me opportunities every day. I’m very blessed.”
Kentucky Downs Press Release
Photos: Accredit, with Martin Garcia up, winning the Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby. Coady Photography