Raymond Cottrell's White Cat rallied strongly in early stretch, then held off a resurgent Deep Shadow to win the Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds by a nose on Keeneland's opening day.
Trained by Ken McPeek, White Cat was winning for the first time in four starts in 2003. In his last two starts at Gulfstream Park he had finished second, by a neck, in the Dave Feldman Stakes, then was second again, beaten a half-length by Nothing to Lose in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT). He was on the right side of the photo this time in his first start under Shane Sellers.
Favored Remind was squeezed at the start, and was last as the field passed the stands the first time. Setting the pace was Hypnotist, who broke from post 2, and he was tracked by Deep Shadow and Chicken Soup Kid. It was three lengths back to White Cat in fourth and a sizable gap back to the rest of the field. The early splits in the one-mile race were :22 4/5 and :46. Chicken Soup Kid gave way on the final bend and Kent Desormeaux and Deep Shadow went after Hypnotist.
Turning for home, Deep Shadow went clear in early stretch, but was collared by White Cat on his outside at the eighth pole. White Cat drew clear, but then had to fight off Deep Shadow who re-rallied along the rail. The final time was 1:34 4/5.
McPeek described White Cat as a "big flat-footed horse. He's been doing everything perfect on the turf.
"I've trained for the Cottrell family for 15 years and this is his first stakes win at Keeneland. There isn't a better feeling than to help a guy over that course of time and do good for him."
Sellers won his 50th stakes race at Keeneland.
Sellers, who returned to riding last fall after being sidelined for an extended period with a serious leg injury, is second on the list of all-time leading stakes winning jockeys at Keeneland, 34 wins behind Pat Day.
"There was a time when I thought I would never ride again," said Sellers. "And, to come back and have the meet like I had in New Orleans and having people like Kenny McPeek behind me from the get-go. I love Keeneland. I love horse racing and I'm glad to be back."
Christmas Away finished third and Remind was fourth.
White Cat, a $30,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase, is by Mountain Cat out of the Cox's Ridge mare Our Friend Terry. The chestnut was bred in Kentucky by Stillmeadow Farm. White Cat won for the third time in 11 starts and increased his earnings to $157,778 with the winner's purse of $62,000. He has a win and a pair of seconds in four outings on the turf.
White Cat paid $9, $5.60, and $5. Deep Shadow returned $7.40 and $7.40. Christmas Away paid $9.20 to show. The 3-7 exacta was worth $68.20.