LEXINGTON, Ky. – The sprinters and juveniles get set for the 37th Breeders’ Cup World Championships arriving at Keeneland. Here are your Sprint, Filly & Mare Sprint, Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies entries.
Vekoma – R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables’ Vekoma arrived from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. by van early Tuesday morning before getting acquainted with the Keeneland racetrack during a 1 3/8m gallop.
“Everything’s gone smoothly so far,” trainer George Weaver said.
Vekoma, who was installed as the 3-1 morningline favorite for Saturday’s Sprint, drew post position 14.
“I like it. I’d rather draw outside than inside,” Weaver said. “You run the risk of being parked real wide on the turn, but I think he has enough tactical speed to clear horses and get in a favorable spot before he gets to that turn.”
Vekoma is 3-for-3 this year but hasn’t run since capturing the July 4 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park.
“He’s been training really well. We’re looking forward to getting him back to the races. I don’t know how he’s going to run off a four-month layoff, but it’s not a six-month layoff or a year layoff,” Weaver said. “It’s four months. Once we got him into a breeze pattern he jumped back into fitness very easily.”
The 4yo son of Candy Ride popped a foot abscess about a month after the Met Mile.
“I would have obviously liked to see our horse run. He’s such a star,” Weaver said. “I wanted to run him in the Forego at Saratoga – that didn’t happen. We were hoping to make the Vosburgh, not so much needing a race but to see a star run.”
Vekoma, who won the Nashua at Aqueduct at 2 and the Blue Grass at Keeneland at 3, finished 13th in the 2019 Kentucky Derby before going to the sidelines for more than 10 months. He returned to win the March 28 Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream Park by 3 ¾ lengths before scoring by 7 ¼ lengths in the Carter at Belmont Park June 6.
“At the time I was worried that Gulfstream might get shut down [due to the COVID-19 pandemic]. Luckily, they got to keep going and we got the race in. From that point on we were looking at the Carter and the Met Mile,” Weaver said. “He’s a good horse. I can’t stress that enough. To win off a layoff like that, if you have a good one, all those things don’t matter that much. I’m not saying he’s going to win, but it won’t be the fitness, it won’t be the layoff (that would get him beat).”
Whitmore – The veteran Whitmore got reacquainted with the Keeneland track Tuesday morning after arriving Monday afternoon from his Churchill base and galloped 1 1/2m under regular rider Laura Moquett, wife and assistant to her husband trainer Ron Moquett, as he prepares for his fourth start in the Sprint. Whitmore, who was second in the Sprint in 2018 and third last year, has prepped for each of his Breeders’ Cup starts in the Phoenix at Keenelandand has a record of 1-2-0 in four tries. He was fourth in the race this year.
“He’s doing great,” said Moquett, who also co-owns the gelding with Robert LaPenta and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners. “He’s doing very good right now, we’re excited. I think he’s coming in to this race as good as he’s ever been.”
When asked about the accomplishment of getting a horse to the Breeders’ Cup four times, Moquett said, “First off you have to have a horse that likes his job. They have to want to do this. And, we’ve been able find a routine that suits him.
“What I think is really awesome about Whitmore is how he’s been able to connect with people over these last four years. I don’t think a day goes by that someone doesn’t reach out through social media to comment about how much they enjoy following him. A lot of people have been following him since he ran in the (Kentucky) Derby (in 2016). The connection he’s made with fans is really cool.”
Filly & Mare Sprint
Serengeti Empress – Cue the waterworks when Saturday’s Filly & Mare Sprint comes to an end, as one of America’s most popular fillies, Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress, will have made her 19th and final start. A seven-time winner, including the Kentucky Oaks, Ballerina Stakes and Azeri Stakes, “The Empress” of the Tom Amoss barn will surrender her sovereignty and head to stud.
“It’s going to be hard, I’m not going to lie,” Amoss said. “She’s going to be a mom after this, but I’ve been so blessed to have her.
“She’s going to go out as healthy as she came to me and I’m really proud of that,” he continued. “She’s been so important to the stable with all she’s accomplished. When she leaves to go to the farm after the Breeders’ Cup, it’s going to be like when your kids go off to college. That’s hard. People may roll their eyes at it, but the people who love racing and love horses understand. She’s very special.”
On Tuesday morning, the earner of more than $2 million galloped a lap of Churchill Downs’ 1m main track. She will arrive at Keeneland on Wednesday morning after doing the same.
TVG Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance
Essential Quality – Godolphin LLC’s undefeated Essential Quality has everyone in the Brad Cox barn excited as he prepares for Juvenile. In just his second career start, he won the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and has been installed as the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.
“He’s training really well and had three works since the Breeders’ Futurity,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I’ve been very happy with all of them. He’s a gifted horse who has been good since day one. He showed us a lot from his first breeze. I would say he has a lot to learn, but the talent is there. He could be anything and is obviously already a Grade 1 winner. He’s a very, very nice horse and I think the sky’s the limit.”
Jackie’s Warrior – J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s undefeated Jackie’s Warrior, the 7-5 morning line favorite in the TVG Juvenile, returned to the track to gallop two days after posting his final workout at Keeneland. Trainer Steve Asmussen reported that he was “excellent.”
Dayoutoftheoffice – The unbeaten daughter of Into Mischief, who was installed as the 5-2 co-second choice on the morning line, had a scheduled walk day Tuesday morning.
“She’s great,” trainer and co-owner Tim Hamm said. “We’re not going to change anything now.”
A Breeders’ Cup win can be a life-altering achievement in its own right but Dayoutoftheoffice has already provided Hamm one the pinnacle achievements of his career. The Ohio native, who has won 1,350 races to date, got to celebrate his first Grade 1 victory when Dayoutoftheoffice defeated fellow Juvenile Fillies entrant Vequist by 2 lengths in the Oct. 10 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park.
“It’s kind of crazy that one horse with ability can change a lot of things for you and give you a little brighter future,” Hamm said. “It just kind of happens. I guess if it happens early on and you haven’t done it in a long time, it would probably be a big buzz and it really is still a big buzz. But it’s very good, it’s great for our staff, it’s important to all of us. You put that many hours into something, that much hard work, you kind of expect it to happen at some point. I probably work approximately 20 hours a day at this trade…so it becomes something that you expect to happen at some point.”
Girl Daddy – Undefeated Girl Daddy and Dale Romans’ three other Breeders’ Cup entrants (Sittin On Go, Sally’s Curlin and Mr Freeze) galloped 1 ½ m at Keeneland Tuesday morning. The quartet arrived at Keeneland Monday after training at Churchill Downs. Girl Daddy, winner of the Pocahantas at Churchill on Sept. 3, had her final Breeders’ Cup tune-up on Oct. 30 at Churchill with a 4f breeze in 48 1/5.
“I feel horses need to have a work over some tracks before they run, but I don’t think Keeneland is that kind of track,” Romans said. “Plus, they are living in their home at Churchill and I have all of my staff there.”
Simply Ravishing – Harold Lerner, Magdalena Racing and Nehoc Stables’undefeated Simply Ravishing, who comes into the Juvenile Fillies off a 6 ¼-length victory in Keeneland’s Alcibiades, has settled back into her local stall after completing her final major preparations at Churchill Downs.
“She’s another really talented filly,” McPeek said. “(Jockey) Robby (Albarado) worked her for me over at Churchill (Saturday). She came over Sunday and has had good gallops here. She’s a tough filly to gallop. She likes to put her head down and really pull. But, she’s doing really good. She’s back here at the scene of her Alcibiades. She’s keeping a pretty similar training pattern to Swiss Skydiver. Just basic gallops.”
Vequist – Though she is just three starts into her career, Vequist has developed a reputation among her caretakers as a filly who thrives on her work. The Grade 1 winning-daughter of Nyquist has done nothing to dispel that notion since arriving at Keeneland as she put in an energetic appearance over the track Tuesday morning during her gallop under exercise rider Teresa Hagemeier.
The strong-bodied filly will be trying two turns for the first time when she starts in the 1 1/16m Juvenile Fillies on Friday. How a young horse handles added distance is always a question mark until they dive into such waters, but trainer Butch Reid says Vequist has been tipping her hand all along that a route of ground ultimately bring out her best run.
“You never really know especially when you’re starting them out at shorter distances, but when the breezes started stretching out is when we knew that she was something special,” said Reid, who has his wife Ginny overseeing Vequist’s preparations this week while he tends to his string at Parx. “The first time I breezed her out of the gate, she went a half mile in 48 and then five-eighths in a minute, then three quarters in 1:12 and then galloped out seven-eighths in 1:25 and change. So we had a pretty good indication we had something on our hands.”
Vequist broke her maiden with a 9 ½-length win in the Spinaway Sept. 6 and was second last time out to Dayoutoftheoffice in the Frizette.
“I mean one of the favorites, Dayoutoftheoffice, I thought she was very competitive with her with a tricky post positon (on the rail),” Butch Reid said. “She didn’t get the best trip in the Frizette so I’m feeling very good that we’re very competitive in here.”