It has been a couple of years since owner G. Watts Humphrey, Jr. and trainer George "Rusty" Arnold had the opportunity to win the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff (gr. II), but their brief drought in the race could end Saturday with Victory Ride.
Humphrey and Arnold scored back-to-back wins in the one-mile race for older fillies and mares with Dream Scheme and Let in 1998 and '99.
This year's hope is a 4-year-old daughter of Seeking the Gold who emerged as one of the finest members of her generation at three with a victory in Saratoga's Test (gr. I) and a runner-up finish in the Acorn (gr. I) at Belmont.
But that season ended early when Victory Ride suffered a career-threatening condylar fracture in the right front leg. Surgeons inserted screws in the damaged bone and Victory Ride made a successful return to competition in April with a win in the Madison Stakes at Keeneland.
"She's one of the better fillies we've had over the last four or five years," said Jack Bohannan, the assistant trainer who handles Arnold's stable at Churchill Downs. "She came through a really dangerous injury and came back to win a stake. Rusty did a great job with her to get her back to the races."
To be ridden by Calvin Borel, Victory Ride is the 9-2 third choice in a field of nine entered Thursday. She will carry 118 pounds, one less than 5-2 morning line favorite Habibti, owned by the Thoroughbred Corp. and trained by Bob Baffert. Other leading contenders are Claiborne Farm's Trip, Iron County Farms' Bare Necessities and Amerman Racing Stable's Adoration.
Victory Ride won two of her three starts on the year before she turned in an uncharacteristically poor outing in Keeneland's 1 1/8-mile Spinster (gr. I) on Oct. 6. She finished next-to-last behind Take Charge Lady in the seven-horse field and was beaten by nearly 17 lengths.
Bohannan said Victory Ride may not have cared for the Spinster distance and should turn in a much better performance this time. Her best races have been at distances similar to Churchill Downs' one-turn mile, which is the course for Saturday's Distaff.
"We're just going to throw the last race out," said Jack Bohannan, Arnold's assistant trainer at Churchill Downs. "She's trained very well up to this race and seems to like the Churchill surface very much. She's had a couple of easy breezes here, which were planned that way. We're really looking for her to rebound and come back and give us a good effort."
Humphrey's previous Churchill Downs Distaff winners scored their victories just before they were retired to the breeding shed. Bohannon said Victory Ride could be on the same schedule, but that decision will be made by Humphrey and Arnold. Whatever her ultimate future may be, Bohannon believes the short term holds the promise of a big effort by Victory Ride on Saturday.
"This race has been very kind to us and we're glad to be back in it," said Bohannan. "Things are going very well for the filly and we expect her to run back to her true form. I really think she ought to run her to run her race. I think the one-turn mile will suit her very well and I think you'll see the old Victory Ride on Saturday."$200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff (gr. II), 1 mile, fillies and mares
PP Horse, Jockey, Wgt.
1 Flaxen Flyer (KY), Daniel Coa, 110
2 Bare Necessities (KY), Jose Valdivia, Jr., 115
3 Habibti (KY), Robby Albarado, 119
4 Red n'Gold (KY), Craig Perret, 113
5 Victory Ride (KY), Calvin H. Borel, 118
6 Trip (KY), Pat Day, 118
7 Adoration (KY), Mark Guidry, 115
8 Softly (KY), Jon Kenton Court, 114
9 Lotta Rhythm (KY), Eddie M. Martin, Jr., 112