Big Score, with Javier Castellano aboard, heads to the winner's circle after winning the Transylvania

Big Score, with Javier Castellano aboard, heads to the winner's circle after winning the Transylvania

Anne M. Eberhardt

Big Score Makes Huge Impression in Transylvania

Dark bay colt is first graded stakes winner for California-based sire Mr. Big.

From the time he purchased the colt at the 2003 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, George Krikorian believed the day would come when Mr. Big  would get an opportunity to showcase some real talent.

Throughout his nine-race career, results for the son of Dynaformer were spotty at best. As the field for the Transylvania Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (G3T) April 7 hit the lane, the stallion's dark bay son emerged from behind horses to succeed in making good on his owner/breeder's faith.

The fact Krikorian's Big Score took down a Breeders' Cup winner in his season debut Friday was only part of the massive nature of the colt's half-length win over Holiday Stone in the 1 1/16-mile Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland. In earning his first graded stakes triumph, Big Score provided the best advertising ever for his 14-year-old, California-based sire, who has just 16 foals of racing age from five crops.

After purchasing Mr. Big as weanling and watching him win two of nine starts on the California circuit, Krikorian thought too much of the bay horse to not give him even the smallest chance in the breeding shed. He bred him to a couple of mares and got a happy surprise when his first runner— Big Break— ended up winning five races with $236,259 in earnings.

Emboldened, Krikorian sent a handful more mares his stallion's way, including the Unusual Heat mare Not Unusual, whose third foal, Big Score, earned his third win in five starts with his big run in the Keeneland stretch.

"Mr. Big is a horse I bought as a weaning and ... he had some unfortunate racing luck and didn't really get a chance to show his talent," said Krikorian, who currently stands Mr. Big at E. A. Ranches in California for a fee of $6,000. "He was such a good-looking horse, I couldn't bring myself to just pension him, so I decided to just breed him to a couple of mares. The first foal ran and won by almost nine lengths, so that motivated me to breed him to additional mares.

"This is an example of the kinds of horses he is producing."

Big Score already added to his sire's burgeoning résumé when he broke his maiden on debut going a mile on the turf at Del Mar in July. Two starts later, he captured the Oct. 10 Zuma Beach Stakes over the Santa Anita Park grass course, earning himself a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T), where he was fifth, beaten 5 lengths by 3-5 Transylvania favorite Oscar Performance.

Like Oscar Performance, Big Score was making his first start since the Breeders' Cup outing. Unlike his grade 1-winning rival, the dark bay runner left little doubt about his progression from 2 to 3, as he rated fifth between horses while Holiday Stone cut opening fractions of :23.92 and :48.48 over a course rated good.

"I had a wonderful trip. I really like the way he did it today—very relaxed, very comfortable, good rhythm all the way through the race," said Javier Castellano, who rode Big Score. "I kept track of the pace. The way he did it (winning from off the pace) was phenomenal."

As the eight-horse field came off the final turn, Holiday Stone was still holding on to his advantage, but the rail opened up for Oscar Performance—who had a ground-saving trip tracking third— to unleash a turn of foot. While jockey Jose Ortiz got no response from the favorite, Castellano had plenty to work with, as Big Score angled out from behind rivals and wore the pacesetter down in the final strides to hit the wire in 1:43.23.

Sent off at 10-1 odds, Big Score paid out $22.40, $10.40, and $7 across the board. Makarios ran on late to get third with Ticonderoga fourth and Oscar Performance flattened out to finish fifth.

"No real excuses. I thought he settled in nice behind," said Brian Lynch, trainer of Oscar Performance. "The pace was not real quick and the rail opened up when it needed to, but he just did not quicken. He could have gotten tired. He was working on a much faster turf course at Palm Meadows (Training Center in South Florida). Maybe he was not as tight as I thought he would be."

Big Score improved his earnings to $237,800 and will likely start next in the May 6 American Turf Stakes (G2T) at Churchill Downs, according to trainer Tim Yakteen.

With his sire already gaining regional popularity thanks to eight winners from as many starters, Krikorian is hopeful his homebred runner will continue to put his stallion's name on a broader map.

"Last year I moved him to California and bred 39 mares, and he's being bred to about 50-60 this year," Krikorian said. "There are going to be a lot of Mr. Bigs on the ground the next couple of years. Especially after what happened today, that is really going to help our program."