Trainer Dale Romans has liked Medal Count from the start, and Spendthrift Farm's Dynaformer colt rewarded his faith April 4 with a brave victory in the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes on opening day of the spring meet at Keeneland (VIDEO).
Squeezed back early on, the bay colt bulled his way through an opening on the rail coming off the final turn and galloped to a 1 1/4-length score in the 1 1/16-mile event, fending off a strong run from Picozza.
The Transylvania, normally slated for the turf, was run on Polytrack due to earlier showers in the Lexington area, and was downgraded from a grade III event pending review from the American Graded Stakes Committee. Four entries scratched from the race, taking the field of 3-year-olds down to eight, but Romans wasn't worried about the change in surface for Medal Count.
The well-traveled runner, who broke his maiden on dirt at Ellis Park last September, came off a fifth in the Feb. 22 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park but had a Jan. 12 victory on the Gulfstream turf. Last October, Medal Count ran fifth in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) on Keeneland's synthetic track. He registered his first stakes win Friday.
"He is versatile; he ran well on the Poly here in the fall (beaten 2 1/4 lengths), but just had too much trouble (in the Bourbon)," Romans said. "This is a really good horse and he has been one of my favorites (from this crop) all along."
Medal Count was a step slow to break from post 1, and tracked along well behind the pace set by front-running longshots Laddie Boy and Kody With a K. Those two contested the issue through early fractions of :23.52 and :47.59, matching strides for three-quarters in 1:12.17 with Laddie Boy in froont by half a length.
Jockey Robby Albarado had Medal Count in a good pocket on the inside, but needed running room as Kody With a K dropped back through the final turn. Picozza put in a sweeping wide run under John Velazquez, but Medal Count slipped away on the inside through a 1:37.02 mile and cleared off for the win. He finished in 1:43.35 before an opening day crowd of 15,169.
"I got squeezed back right under the wire the first time," Albarado said. "I had specific instructions from Dale to just try to keep him clear. At the three-eighths pole, I tried to sneak through. Fortunately, I got through there and it worked out for us.
"I rode him here in the fall and we had so much trouble. Dale had high expectations of him then. As an older horse, he's shown everything Dale thought about him."
Medal Count, sent off as the narrow second at 3-1, returned $8, $4.20, and $3.40 while Picozza brought $5.60 and $4.20 to place. Woodfield Springs, making up ground from seventh to finish a neck back in third, paid $4.60 to show.
Favored Storming Inti was 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth as Laddie Boy, Hesinfront, Global View, and Kody With a K completed the order of finish. Can'thelpbelieving, Pleuven, Red River Rising, and Ry's the Man scratched.
Jockey Javier Castellano had no excuse for the finish of Storming Inti, who came in off a third in the March 1 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT).
"I had a beautiful trip," Castellano said. "I love the way the race set up for us. I'm disappointed because I didn't have the horse. He didn't fire. It's hard to find excuses when you get beat but unfortunately today for some reason he didn't fire."
A future target is uncertain for three-time winner Medal Count, who in six starts has already raced three times on the dirt, twice on the Polytrack, and once on the turf (victory in a Gulfstream allowance Jan. 12). His only bad performance, which Romans termed "a real head-scratcher," was an 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last November at Santa Anita Park.
Spendthrift purchased Medal Count, who was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings out of the Unbridled's Song mare Brisquette, for $360,000 from the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale when he was consigned by Three Chimneys. He has earned $111,600 thus far.
"If it was up to me he'd still be on the (Kentucky) Derby trail, but Mr. (B. Wayne) Hughes (of Spendthrift) wanted to take a more conservative approach and let him grow up a little bit," Romans said. "Today was a big performance and showed he could go anywhere."