Aptly named Lawn Ranger raced into Breeders' Cup contention when he surged to the lead at the top of the stretch and drove relentlessly to the wire to win the $250,000 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) at Keeneland Oct. 5.
Settled comfortably into third to lead the second pack as Thirtysilverpieces and Less Than Perfect strode out to the front, well ahead of the others, 12-1 shot Lawn Ranger was content to bide his time behind moderate fractions. The leaders continued unchallenged through opening quarter miles of :23.26 and :48.17 but by the time they stopped the clock at 1:14.40 for six furlongs, they were beginning to tire.
Coming out of the second turn in the 1 1/16-mile test, jockey Chris Landeros began to move Lawn Ranger and it was not long before the 2-year-old son of U S Ranger was in front. With a mile completed in 1:38.31, Lawn Ranger faced a stiff challenge from Danny Boy, the 3-1 second choice under replacement rider Julien Leparoux, and favored Can't Happen Here.
But Lawn Ranger held on tenaciously, getting the distance in 1:44.41.
Trained by Ken McPeek for the Turf Stable of Rusty Jones and partners, Lawn Ranger paid $27.40, $10.40, and $5. It was a half-length back to Danny Boy, paying $5 and $3.20, with Can't Happen Here another half-length behind that one in third, returning $3. Completing the order were Majestico, Less Than Perfect, Croninthebarbarian, Chief Kitten, and Thirtysilverpieces. Conquest Tsunami was scratched.
The Bourbon Stakes is a "Win and You're In" challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT), and McPeek said that race Oct. 31 at Santa Anita Park is on the agenda for Lawn Ranger.
"That's a pretty easy one," the trainer said. "As long as everything goes smooth, and I think it should. I'm a little concerned about the speed of the race track out there in California. You get one chance at this, right?"
Lawn Ranger improved to two wins and a second from three starts, all on turf, with earnings of $209,700. Previous to the Bourbon Stakes, the colt was second on the lawn at Ellis Park and then broke his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths at Kentucky Downs Sept. 13.
"I felt like he needed to go to another level," McPeek said. "His race at Kentucky Downs was a pleasant surprise. He seems like a horse that's maturing, and I think he's gonna be even better as a 3-year-old. Our fingers are crossed that will happen."
Jerry Crawford, of Donegal Racing, said runner-up Danny Boy could also go on to the Breeders' Cup.
"Julien says we should go to the Breeders' Cup and he would like to ride him if we do," Crawford said. "That's a pretty good testimonial."
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said Can't Happen Here's chances were compromised at the start.
"He missed the start and kinda got out of position. At the three-eighths pole I had to swing out a little wide because some horses were stopping in front of me. (We) just got beat a length, and if he breaks better he would have a better performance, for sure. He's a nice horse."
Lawn Ranger was purchased by McPeek for $50,000 from the Eaton Sales consignment to the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale.
McPeek paid tribute to the late Scott Ricker, who bred Lawn Ranger along with his wife, Carol, out of the Dynaformer mare Lalka.
"I'm happy for the Ricker family. Scott Ricker passed away. He bred this horse. His ashes are actually here on Keeneland grounds, which I think is a mojo thing. We had a special angel."