Large and Small
The opening day card offered a sharp contrast in operations. The $451,200 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) was won by the powerful, globe-trotting Shadwell Stable and its turf traveler Altibr, while the $214,800 Fayette Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) was taken by Jadada, from the four-horse Kentucky stable of trainer Mitch Shirota. The Turf Mile, a proving ground for Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) entrants, and even more so since this year's Championship Day will be held just 80 miles west at Churchill Downs in Louisville, drew a well-matched, and slightly eclectic field. Nine went postward, but it was hard to find a true miler in the bunch. The post-time favorite, 3+U Stable's Super Quercus, was making his first start since winning the 1 1/8-mile Early Times Hollywood Derby (gr. IT)...last November.The second choice, Sam-Son Farm's Quiet Resolve, winner via disqualification of the Atto Mile (Can-I) and Mile participant a year ago, had spent the majority of 2000 running in longer races, and was one of three in the field that had made their last start at 1 3/8 miles or longer. Altibr, the third choice at 5-1, last won at a mile on the turf at Saratoga three starts prior, but had not won a stakes since winning the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-II) in March of 1999 while wintering at home in Dubai. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, a local product of Lexington, had cut his teeth as a D. Wayne Lukas assistant before taking the helm for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum in Dubai and New York. A brief trip home was not a holiday; he was in town to deliver. "There was some pressure to win this race," McLaughlin said afterward. "As far as I was concerned, this was our Breeders' Cup. I thought we would run well, but I knew we'd have to have some luck and a good trip." Luck has not been on Altibr's side of late. A third-place finish in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) in his last start was attributed to a large number of scratches from the field and a change in strategy once Altibr was on the lead. In his start before that, a wide trip proved costly in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga. "We were looking to get him to come from off the pace," McLaughlin said. That was not a problem in the Turf Mile, as the mare Pratella shot to the front, carving out fractions of :23.34 and :46.32, with Quiet Resolve in pursuit and the 3-year-old Field Cat and Strategic Mission close up. Altibr, under regular rider Richard Migliore, tucked in behind the majority of the field, but was held closer to the inside than in previous starts.
The Bobby Frankel-trained Super Quercus was nearly 10 lengths off the pace in last.
As the group turned for home, Altibr went from stalk to attack mode and unleashed a burst of acceleration in Keeneland's short turf stretch. Getting the closing furlong in a shade under 12 seconds, Altibr fought off fellow New York invader Strategic Mission by a neck to lop an impressive four-fifths of a second, or 0.87, off the course mark in 1:33.72.
"It warmed me up a lot," McLaughlin said, while wearing a long winter coat to fight off the chill of the autumn afternoon. "Running a mile in 1:33 seems to do that. "There's still a lot of racing to go in Europe, New York, and California," McLaughlin continued. "But this is a great prep for the Breeders' Cup. I think he belongs. It's also great to know he could handle the turf course here, because they (Keeneland and Churchill Downs) are very similar." The diminutive Shirota, who can just maybe shade five feet if standing on a phone directory, got not only a heart-stopping, come-from-behind victory in the Fayette with Sellers aboard, but a ride on the shoulders of Eddie Musselman, a.k.a ."Indian Charlie" and Don "Moon" Gamble to the winner's circle. Shirota's Jadada, who had finished fourth behind Captain Steve in the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), bounced back big time for a $133,176 payday. Trapped inside for most of the trip in the 1 3/16-mile race, Sellers got out and clear at nearly the last possible minute and came wide to draw clear by 1 1/2 lengths at the line. "I just decided to pull him up and throw him outside and then let him get another chance to run," Sellers said. "I'm just glad it worked out. I wasn't looking forward to getting cussed out. It wasn't pretty, but we got the money." It was the first stakes win at Keeneland for Shirota--his Madame Bear finished third in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. III) in 1992-- and the first for his clients Andrena and Paul Van Doren's Sterling Stud. The Van Dorens watched the race from California, but checked in with farm manager Henry Alexander for a post-race wrap-up.
While the Breeders' Cup is a longshot, Jadada is likely to return in the Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.