The Thoroughbred Corp's Spain is a prime example of what a difference a few weeks can make in the world of horse racing. The 3-year-old filly scored one of the biggest upsets of the racing year when she won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at odds of 56-1, but now it will be a shock -- although a milder one -- if she fails to defeat six rivals in Thursday's $250,000-added Falls City Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
The 85th running of the Falls City is the featured event on a ten race Thanksgiving Day racing card that kicks off the final three days of Churchill Downs' 24-day Fall Meet. The 1 1/8-mile test is the first of four stakes races scheduled over the very popular three-day holiday weekend that will wrap-up live racing for the year at the home of the Kentucky Derby. The 126th running of the Clark Handicap (gr. II) heads a 12-race card on Friday and a pair of $200,000-added races for 2-year-olds, the Golden Rod (gr. II) for fillies and the Brown & Williamson Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II), are the co-featured events on Saturday's closing day card. Post time for all three days is 11:30 a.m. (EDT).
Spain, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas, slipped through along the rail under Victor Espinoza to win the Distaff on Nov. 4 to defeat her 3-year-old stablemate Surfside by 1 1/2-lengths. Left in her wake was an elite group of the world's best older fillies and mares that included third-place finisher Heritage of Gold; European star and fourth-place finisher Crimplene; 1999 champion older filly or mare Beautiful Pleasure; and Riboletta, the heavy favorite to win the Eclipse Award as the top older filly or mare this year.
The daughter of the Lukas-trained 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch has compiled a 4-2-1 record in 11 starts this year and has earned $1,805,300. Spain is based at Churchill Downs with Lukas' Kentucky stable and he said the Falls City was the logical next step for the filly.
"She's doing well and showed a good affinity for the racetrack," he said. "It's a very, very nice race. I think that when a horse is doing good and you can lead them out of their own barn on a track they like for $250,000, I think you should. What am I going to do? Save her and wait for another $200,000 someplace else? I might as well run her."
Spain had only one career victory when she joined Lukas' barn after a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on May 5. Her debut for Lukas came on May 27 at Churchill Downs in an inauspicious sixth place finish to Welcome Surprise on a sloppy track in the $100,000-added Dogwood (gr. III). She was given a short break by Lukas following that disappointing effort and returned as a revitalized horse. Since that break she has three stakes victories -- the Distaff, Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II) and the Turfway Park Breeders' Cup (gr. III) – and turned in strong performances in Grade I races in Saratoga's Alabama (3rd) and the Three Chimneys Spinster at Keeneland (2nd).
"She has really done well," said Lukas. "She fell into the program and we're real pleased. We don't see any tail-off from the Breeders' Cup. That's not saying that I think she's going to win, but I think she'll run a good one again."
Spain will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who was aboard for her Breeders' Cup Distaff upset, and will carry high weight of 122 pounds. She will concede from five-to-12 pounds to her rivals.
Despite Spain's emergence, the Falls City will be far from a walkover for Lukas' filly. Awaiting her are such accomplished rivals as the Bill Mott-trained Bordelaise, an Argentine-bred who finished a close second to Riboletta in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar; the Shug McGaughey-trained Atelier, an improving 3-year-old who won the Turnback The Alarm Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct on Oct. 28; On A Soapbox, the Niall O'Callaghan-trained winner of the 1999 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) and the recent Maple Leaf (C-GIII) at Toronto's Woodbine; and James T. Hines, Jr.'s Ruby Surprise, winner of the Humana Distaff (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
The field for the Falls City, in order of post position, includes: Ruby Surprise, 114, Joe Judice; Atelier, 115, Edgar Prado; Bordelaise, 117, Pat Day; Gandria, 114, Constant Montpellier; Lady Tamworth, 110, Willie Martinez; On A Soapbox, 116, Larry Melancon; and Spain, 122, Espinoza.