Keeneland Race Report: All Charged Up

Keeneland Race Report: All Charged Up
Photo: Lang Photos/Gary Burbrink<p>
Take Charge Lady scores big victory in the Spinster.
Published in the Oct. 12 issue of The Blood-Horse
Blowing in on the winds of Hurricane Lili, the autumn Keeneland meeting came not a moment too soon, dispatching the long, hot Bluegrass summer with the promise of cooler climes and hot Breeders' Cup contenders. Opening weekend delivered on both, as eager crowds drank up stunning performances and beautiful sunshine.

With nearly all Keeneland's signature races front-loaded into the beginning of the meet to serve as final Breeders' Cup preps, the Lexington operation dubbed its opening three days FallStars Weekend, and it was a whirlwind of headline performers on display in virtually every division, headed by the exceptional fillies Take Charge Lady and Xtra Heat.

If ever a horse loved Keeneland, Take Charge Lady is it. Her brilliant score in the $546,000 Overbrook Spinster (gr. I) Oct. 6 marked the fourth consecutive Lexington meeting in which she's won a race. Her 2 1/2-length victory in the Spinster made her just the third filly to sweep the Spinster, Ashland (gr. I), and Alcibiades (gr. II), and adding to the home cooking is her trainer, Ken McPeek, who was raised a couple of furlongs from the track.

The 3-year-old daughter of Dehere came out of the Dogwood Stakes (gr. III) last May slightly dehydrated, and McPeek decided against a summer campaign, putting her on the shelf for three months instead to point for the Spinster. Now she has a new goal--butting heads with Imperial Gesture and Azeri in the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).

First she had to deal with serious competition from five-time grade I winner You, classy Dancethruthedawn, and Printemps, who's never been off the board in 10 straight stakes tries. Kent Desormeaux got You to the lead after all seven broke alertly, with Victory Ride outside him and Take Charge Lady just behind on the rail. You, supposedly compromised by distance limitations, showed none of them over these nine furlongs--she carried the field through both turns. "She didn't get tired, and the distance wasn't a problem," Desormeaux said. "The winner was just too good."

Coming a path off the rail turning for home, You kicked on, but Edgar Prado had been sitting absolutely still on Take Charge Lady, tucked behind the pacesetter. When the seam opened, Prado pushed the button and Take Charge Lady did just that, flying to the lead for a convincing win in 1:49.90. You held second, with Printemps running on late for third.

"She relaxed beautifully behind the leaders and I just bided my time," said Prado, who was winning his fourth of the six graded stakes on the weekend. "You saw what she can do. She took off like a rocket." Racing for Feye Bach's Select Stable, Take Charge Lady has earned nearly $1.6 million, winning eight times from 12 starts. McPeek was asked to assess the chances at Arlington for the filly, who was bred in Kentucky by William Schettine out of the Rubiano mare Felicita.

"This is the most solid division in the Breeders' Cup. Certainly Imperial Gesture is a good one, and Azeri. But my filly is tactical. She'll lay just off the pace, or on it if you want. She's very special." Right now, she's large and in charge.

Xtra Special

She might be short in height, but she's huge in stature. Xtra Heat had what seemed like half of Keeneland gathered around her in the paddock before the $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup (gr. III) Oct. 5. The crowd marveled at her long length, trying to figure where the 15-hand filly gets all her speed. Minutes later she showed exactly what all the fuss was about, ripping to a three-length victory over the "fast" track in 1:10.13 for the six furlongs.

The Phoenix marked her 24th triumph in 31 starts, and she entered the race already a millionaire two times over. Bred by the McLean family of Crestwood Farm in Kentucky and partners, Xtra Heat was the gamest of seconds in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), holding together as the other speed fell apart, and missing just a half-length to Squirtle Squirt on her way to a 3-year-old filly championship. The Phoenix was just another stroll in the park for trainer John Salzman Sr., who owns Xtra Heat with Harry Deitchman and Kenneth Taylor. "An easy winner," Salzman said matter-of-factly into his cell phone moments after the race. "She was the only horse running turning for home."

Xtra Heat, favored at 3-5, broke quickest from the gate in the short but talented five-horse field. From all the "ones" on her past performances, the filly's style is no secret. But with quick competitors like Touch Tone and Day Trader signed up in the Phoenix, she figured to have a trying trip with more company than a haunted house on Halloween. Day Trader, winner of the Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III) last out, left from the rail, and Touch Tone, who figured to be on the engine in his first start in 13 months, made it a tight trio on the front end.

Touch Tone took a neck lead approaching the quarter-pole, and with fractions of :21.33 and :44.63 already in the books, Xtra Heat had every right to give some ground. She didn't. In a few jumps, she took back her lead, blazing past the five-eighths in :56.91, and although Day Trader ran on late, he was running for second. Touch Tone held third. Xtra Heat widened impressively, and will make her next engagement in Chicago.

The magnificent seems commonplace for her connections, though the Keeneland crowd was quite emotionally taken, giving the winner a rousing hand as she entered the winner's circle. Jockey Harry Vega, not exactly a household name, sounded like he was discussing his laundry list after the win. "That's what champions are made of," Vega said, "to show up every start--and she's a champion who does. In these races everybody tries to go out with her, but she's in control of what she's gonna do and when she's gonna do it. I'm not concerned with anybody else in the race because she's so good and so honest and gives you so much courage."

Salzman, a master of understatement, called Xtra Heat "a nice filly. If she stays the way she is now, that's all she needs. There looks like there'll be plenty of speed in the Breeders' Cup, and they've ganged up on her before. Maybe we'll gang up on them this time." Bet against this one at your own risk.

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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