Moon Over Miami, who needed a scratch the morning of the race to make it into the race, engaged front-runner Big Dreaming in mid-stretch and powered home to win Thursday’s 1 5/16-mile, $750,000 Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby by a half-length under Javier Castellano at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Kenny McCarthy, who runs the Churchill Downs division for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, said they faced a decision early Thursday morning when it was time for the van to leave for Kentucky Downs and there was yet to be a defection in the capacity 12-horse field that would allow Moon Over Miami to draw in off the also-eligible list. That happened when Fighting Seabee was scratched by the 10 a.m. Central deadline.
“We sort of took a shot sending him down, hoping that well, maybe, hoping in time, somebody would scratch,” McCarthy said. “They said we could stay in until 10 a.m. So we just sent him down with our fingers crossed. It doesn’t often work out like that. We got a little bit of racing luck in every which way.”
Coincidentally, the Mott-trained favorite in the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks, Harvey’s Lil Goil, was beaten by Micheline in a similar manner, although in that case she was pretty much nailed on the wire.
“That’s the racing gods there,” McCarthy said of racing luck evening out. “But hey, we were happy with her. She ran a super race. Jose (Ortiz) gave her a nice ride. We just got rundown right at the wire. So hat’s off to the winner.”
Big Dreaming, ridden by Chris Landeros, led the field through the first turn and up the backstretch with Kid Mercury, Peace Achieved, Dynadrive, Jolting Joe and Summer Assault in closest pursuit. The initial fractions were a reasonable :24.39 for the first quarter-mile, :48.68 for the half and 1:13.26 for three-quarters of a mile. At that point, Moon Over Miami was ninth by six lengths, and tepid 4-1 favorite Bama Breeze trailed the field of twelve 3-year-olds.
Turning for home, Big Dreaming was still in charge and separated himself from Kid Mercury as horses bunched up for the stretch run. Moon Over Miami emerged from the pack to narrowly lead the way past the eighth-mile marker. The final time for 1 5/16 miles was 2:06.76.
“I had a beautiful trip. I never rode the horse before,” said Castellano after recording his first win of the three-day old meet. “The way I handicapped it, everything went against the horse. Big field, (drawing) 13, outside, a long, long distance. I think the key was a lot of patience — ride with a lot of confidence and patience and it’s going to pay off. And that’s exactly what I did with the horse. I rode with a lot of patience. I tried to save all the ground as best I could around the first turn and let it him develop a hole little by little on the backside and get him a clear trip. And that’s exactly what I did with the horse.”
Moon Over Miami, a son of the Spendthrift Farm stallion Malibu Moon, paid $16 to win as the fifth choice in the field of 12. He now is 3-0-0 in nine starts, ballooning his earnings to $540,152 with the $432,450 payday for owner-breeder Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine.
Big Dreaming gamely stayed on to finish second, 3 3/4 lengths ahead of the late-running Shamrocket.
“He did run big,” said Wayne Catalano, who trains Big Dreaming for owner Frank Calabrese. “All week long when the overnight came out, I didn’t want the 13 to draw in. You don’t want Billy Mott drawing in at 5-1. And he draws in and beats me. But our horse did everything good. This kid rode a great race. The horse ran a great race. He looked like we were coming back, coming back and that we might get there. But we were second-best.”
Peace Achieved, winner of last year’s 2-year-old mile stakes at Kentucky Downs, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth while nosing out Kid Mercury. Rounding out the order of finish were Kinenos, Bama Breeze, Angelus Warrior, Natural Power (IRE), Summer Assault, Jolting Joe and Dynadrive. Fighting Seabee and also-eligibles Buy Me Candy, Salow and Sunsation were scratched.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography