Jockey Miguel Mena had a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend at Churchill Downs, piloting the winners of the three graded events taking placing Saturday and Sunday. He capped off the graded hat trick Sunday aboard 30-1 longshot Keep Up in the Grade 3, $115,700 River City Handicap.
On Saturday, Mena was aboard fellow 31-1 longshot Seaneen Girl in the Grade 2 Golden Rod and favored Uncaptured in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.
"It was an awesome weekend, especially to do it here," Mena beamed. "A few years ago, I had some issues and I appreciate the horsemen giving me great support. I'm just trying to do the right thing now and keep my family going."
The rider settled Keep Up near the rear of the field when the gates opened on the River City. Global Power used his inside post to take command and proceeded to set fractions of :23 4/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 while chased by Skyring to his outside and Stormy Lord a bit farther back. The pacesetter couldn't sustain his momentum, though, and faded along with Stormy Lord entering the stretch as Boisterous scooted between horses to grab the advantage.
Boisterous didn't have an easy time of it, as Skyring and Swift Warrior immediately challenged to his outside. All the while, Keep Up was steadily closing ground after swinging eight wide into the stretch and rushed by the dueling trio to score by a half-length on the wire.
"He was far back, but it was a pretty solid pace and he was traveling nice," Mena said. "When I rode him in the mile race (on November 16), he was pretty far back, too, and I didn't want to rush him off his feet. I rode him with patience and from the quarter-pole he flew home."
The five-year-old son of Unbridled's Note completed nine furlongs on the firm turf in 1:48 to move his grass record to a perfect three-for-three. Keep Up rewarded he faithful, but few, backers with nice payouts of $62.60, $15.60 and $10 as the third longest shot on the board.
Boisterous, the 4-5 favorite, held second by a head over Skyring, who had a neck to spare on Swift Warrior in fourth. Optimizer completed the top five and was followed under the line by Miami Deco, Middie, Guys Reward, Global Power, Depeche Chat, Temeraine and Stormy Lord.
"I didn't really have any trouble. He broke good and I put him in a good spot. When I asked, he gave me his race," said Boisterous' rider, Jose Lezcano. "The other horse (Keep Up) just ran past me and did it easy."
Keep Up just began racing on the turf in October, taking an allowance at Keeneland by a length before adding a head score against grassy optional claiming rivals under the Twin Spires to his record just nine days ago on November 16. Prior to those wins, the bay captured his seasonal bow on July 29 over Arlington Park's Polytrack and then suffered his first off-the-board placing when fourth back at that same track next out. He also threw in a third on Keeneland's Polytrack against allowance competition.
Keep Up ran third in his debut for trainer Anthony Mitchell, then was transferred to Shug McGaughey, who bred him along with John A. Chancler, Jamm Ltd. and owner Mill Ridge Farm. He made four starts in 2011 for McGaughey, but the Kentucky-bred has been saddled by Alex Clarkson all of this year. The victory was the first official stakes win for the 63-year-old Clarkson, who has assisted in the preparation of training horses for decades.
"There was a lot of concern before and I was cautious and I wasn't too confident, but he was doing great," Clarkson said of the quick turnaround for Keep Up. "He was eating up and training great and he looked good, so we decided to give him a shot.
"We had him nominated to this race just in case the prep (on November 16) didn't go and he came out of the race so well and Miguel emphasized that he never hit him. I watched the replay and he never did hit him and he only ran the last quarter (mile). We said if anything came up, we wouldn't run him.
"He's a well-bred horse and he's fully developed now. He's sound and he's lightly raced. It's an advantage for us now going forward."
Making his stakes bow in the River City, the five-year-old improved his lifetime record to read 11-5-1-4 and has now accumulated $213,623 in career earnings. He could try the Grade 3 Col. E. R. Bradley on January 19 at Fair Grounds for his next start, but Clarkson added that they might also "...bypass that and give him some time."
Keep Up is the first stakes winner out of the Deputy Minister mare Keeper Hill, who captured the Kentucky Oaks, Spinster and Las Virgenes, all Grade 1s, while earning more than $1.6 million during her four years on track. The mare also placed in eight other Grade 1 contests, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and is a half-sister to Grade 2 victor Golden Gear.
Keep Up's third dam is stakes vixen Jedina, who would go on in the breeding shed to produce Grade 1-winning millionaire Clabber Girl, and his fourth dam is Killaloe, who foaled Grade/Group 1-scoring sires Fappiano and Torrential. Killaloe is also the granddam of 2000 Belmont Stakes king Commendable.