Mathea Kelley

Acoma Gets Encore in Ladies' Classic

Grade I winner in Spinster will race once more before retirement

For three seasons, the mother-and-daughter team of Helen Groves and Helen Alexander had been trying to get a grade I victory next to the name of their homebred runner Acoma, a daughter of Empire Maker  out of the Danzig mare Aurora. Acoma was cooperating to a degree, winning the grade III Dogwood Stakes as a 3-year-old in 2008, and the grade II Mrs. Revere as well as four grade IIIs last season.

But in 2010, with retirement and a broodmare career looming, Acoma had been winless heading into what all believed would be the final race of her career, the Oct. 10 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. In mid-pack early, Acoma burst down the center of the stretch to outkick nine opponents and take the Spinster at odds of 23-1. Afterward, Alexander was overjoyed that the hard-knocking mare had achieved that grade I victory that had eluded her in four previous tries, and was satisfied that the mare would retire at the top of her game.

A funny thing happened on the way to the broodmare barn, however. The mare came out of the Spinster in perfect shape, according to trainer David Carroll. And the lure of Breeders’ Cup glory proved too strong to ignore for Groves and Alexander. So Acoma is getting one last run, in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5.

It is a move that makes sense on a variety of levels. Acoma is perfect in two starts over the main track at Churchill Downs, which this year hosts the two-day World Championships. She trains over the strip daily. There is plenty of speed signed up to favor her late-running style. And she is exiting the right prep race.

"I take solace in realizing that 10 Spinster winners have gone on to win the Distaff/Ladies’ Classic," said Alexander, who owns Middlebrook Farm on Old Frankfort Pike near Midway, Ky. "The next-best prep had two winners, so that kind of makes me feel good."

Trainer Carroll has been receiving all the right signals from Acoma since the Spinster.

"I couldn’t be any happier with how she’s training and how she looks," noted the conditioner. "This is her home; she’s very comfortable here, and she’s yet to run a bad race at Churchill Downs.

"The way she’s acting and training and feeling, she’s not acting like a horse who wants to go to the paddock, so why deny her this opportunity. We’re not taking her to the Breeders’ Cup; she’s taking us, and I really mean that."

Alexander is the granddaughter of Robert Kleberg, who founded the equine division of King Ranch in Texas in the 1930s. The operation bred and raced 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes victor Middleground. Alexander assumed control of the legendary operation at the age of 21. When the board of directors of King Ranch eventually decided to close down the Thoroughbred division, Alexander established her Kentucky base, rolling out a stream of graded stakes winners as owner and/or breeder, many of whom, like Acoma, had names beginning with the first letter of the alphabet.

Alexander has owned or co-owned graded stakes winners Aishah, Aldiza, Althea, Aquilegia, Atelier, Auto Dial, Connected, Defacto, Electric Flash, Ketoh, and Pantufla, and had bred or co-bred graded winners Aishah, Aldiza, Althea, Aquilegia, Arch, Atelier, Auto Dial, Connected, Defacto, Destiny Dance, Electric Flash, Ketoh, Namaqualand, Pantufla, Pie N Burger, Tenacious Tiffany, Twining, and Yamanin Paradise.

She has also served as an officer or on just about every industry board one could name, including the Breeders’ Cup.

"These horses are here because they’re the best in their division, and it’s an honor to be included in that group," noted Alexander, who is seeking her first Breeders’ Cup victory as an owner or breeder. "You just have to be at your very best on the day. Any horse that’s in these races can win, and you just hope that it’s your day."

It will be one last day at the office for Acoma, who will join Middlebrook’s broodmare band as a grade I winner whatever the Ladies’ Classic outcome.