His accomplishments beforehand had been modest, but the 2 1/2-length victory for Dean's Kitten in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Turfway Park March 27 pushes Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred right into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) picture.
On a day when the Ramseys' Furthest Land finished last in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), Dean's Kitten's victory in the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End certainly should prove to be more than consoling. The $291,000 winning purse moves the son of Kitten's Joy into the top 10 among 3-year-olds in graded stakes earnings, which are used to determine the 20 qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby.
“We were looking for just what we got," said winning trainer Mike Maker, who took the Lane's End in 2006 with With a City.
Maker grinned when asked about going to the Derby. “Well, you’d have to talk to the boss but I’d have to say he’d be inclined to go. I do know that Mr. Ramsey is excited, and that he’s still awake (in Dubai).”
Dean's Kitten, ridden for the third straight race by Cornelio Velasquez, settled four wide in fourth as California Derby winner Ranger Heartley carved out the early fractions. Dean's Kitten moved up on the outside to battle Ranger Heartley early on the far turn and took the lead into the stretch.
Challenged off the turn by Northern Giant and Calvin Borel, Dean's Kitten drifted out briefly but took control after straightening out and was increasing his advantage as he reached the wire. The final time was 1:50.59 over Turfway's Polytrack.
“I really like this horse," Velasquez said. "He’s why I came here today. He has a lot of try. He loves Polytrack. He can run on grass, but this is his track. Mr. Maker never gave me any instructions. I just wanted to keep him off the pace. I had a ton of horse at the top of the stretch. I was very confident in him.”
The Wayne Lukas-trained Northern Giant was a clear second by 3 1/4 lengths over Connemara, the 17-10 choice in the field of nine ridden by Russell Baze.
“He ran a beautiful race," Borel said of the runner-up. "He’s just a little green and it showed. I wouldn’t go by the winner.”
Connemara, from the Todd Pletcher barn, hopped in the air at the start and was forced to close seven wide into the stretch while finishing willingly.
"He wasn’t handling (the surface) completely, but once I got him out, he really came running," Baze said. "He galloped out beautifully. I thought he ran very well. Overall, it was a solid effort.”
Ranger Heartley, who faded to last, turned splits of :24.48, :48.57 and 1:37.81.
Dean's Kitten has done most of his racing on turf and had just one prior start on a synthetic track, making his debut at Keeneland last April with a third-place finish in a 4 1/2-furlong Polytrack heat. The chestnut colt, out of the Ide mare Summer Theatre, was coming off a second-place finish in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Gulfstream Park grass March 6. He ran fourth in the Hallandale Beach a month before that.
"He did not get good trips at Gulfstream," Maker said. "That course has been favoring speed horses all meet so we pointed for this race and it paid off for us.”
Winning for the first time since taking a minor stakes at Belmont Park on turf Oct. 25, Dean's Kitten ended a four-race losing streak and boosted his overall record to 3-1-2 in 11 races with earnings of $418,495.
Sent off as the third choice, Dean's Kitten paid $15, $6.20 and $3.40 while keying a $62.40 exacta. Northern Giant, third in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Feb. 20, returned $5.40 and $3.40. El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) winner Connemara, the only graded winner in the Lane's End field, was $2.10 to show.
Chief Counsel finished fourth, followed by Vow to Wager, Letsgetitonmon, Outlaw Man, Doubles Partner and Ranger Heartley. Kettle River scratched.
One race earlier, the Pletcher-trained Exhi won the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes for 3-year-olds with Baze aboard.
Exhi had an adventurous trip in the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack event, forced wde in the first turn before angling to the inside on the backstretch and taking the lead from Activity Report before going four furlongs. Exhi, who paid $19.20 for the win, held stubbornly to a one-length advantage, repelling Lonesome Street in the lane to win in a time of 1:44.47 for owner/breeder Wertheimer and Frere.
Exhi is by Maria's Mon--Soldera, by Polish Numbers.
Lonesome Street, ridden by Velasquez for the Ramseys and trainer Maker, was second by 4 3/4 lengths over In the Paint and Chris DeCarlo. Positive Split, the 11-10 choice in the field of eight, finished fourth.