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Hard Not to Like sells for $2.2 million at Keeneland November

Hard Not to Like managed to top her own performance in the sales pavilion from just one year ago, selling for $2.2 million to Tom Ryan’s Dattt Stables during Monday’s opening session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale.

The six-year-old daughter of Hard Spun sold to Speedway Stables for $1.5 million to Speedway Stables at last year’s Keeneland November sale and went on to provide that partnership of Peter Fluor and K. C. Weiner their first top-level victories as owners this season.

Hard Not to Like won the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita Park on May 25 and defeated a field that included eventual Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tepin and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf victor Stephanie’s Kitten in the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 25.

“It was obviously great fun with her this year,” Fluor said of selling Hard Not to Like. “I grew up in Arcadia and I used to go to Santa Anita Park with my father when I was 6 or 7 years old. So when she won the Gamely, I kind of flashed back about 60 years earlier and said ‘What are the chances I’d be sitting here’ as she came into the winner’s circle. It was very exciting for her and she’s in great shape.”

Consigned by Taylor Made Farm, Hard Not to Like is out of the stakes winning Tactical Cat mare Like a Gem. Gary Bush, who signed the ticket as agent for Dattt Stables, said there is a chance the gray mare could race once more this year, likely in the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar on November 29.

“We’re glad to have her, we’re looking for a nice filly to add to the broodmare band,” Bush said. “She may race one more time, we’ll see how it goes. The top mares are still top, you still have a pay a lot of money for those. No one wants to pay that (price) but that’s where it is at the top and that’s where we’re shopping.”

Hard Not to Like has won eight of 21 starts including three Grade I wins and has earnings of $1,261,921.

Northern Farm buys Don’t Tell Sophia for $1.2 million

Six years ago, barely anyone took heed when Hip No. 2787 walked into the Keeneland sales pavilion.  And if trainer Phil Sims hadn’t raised his hand to land the big-bodied bay daughter of Congaree for the minimum $1,000 bid during the 2009 September yearling sale, the filly would have walked out of pavilion as a commercial afterthought.

Grade I winner Don’t Tell Sophia returned to the scene of the turning point of her life on Monday and left with a new, lofty future at hand.  With her emotional co-owner and trainer looking on, the 7-year-old mare who was once nearly a no-bid horse became a sought after commodity, selling to representatives of Northern Farm in Japan for $1.2 million during the opening session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale.

Where only Sims saw her value during her early days, Don’t Tell Sophia – who sold in foal to Medaglia d’Oro – opened with a bid of $50,000 and then had the board steadily climb up into the illustrious seven-figure range.  Shunsuke Yoshida of Northern Farm  called the final bid “a fair price” for a mare that earned $1,382,479 in her career and was second in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Sims, who sold Don’t Tell Sophia under his Spring Trace Farm banner, had trouble finding the right words to sum up the reality of letting just the second Grade I winner he has trained go across the globe to a new home.

“It’s tough, it’s tough to part with that family,” said Sims, who named the mare after his grandmother, Sophie. “We’re happy with the price, we felt that was right at her value and everything. Just wish the buyers luck with her. But it’s a tough day for us.”

Yoshida added that Don’t Tell Sophia would likely be bred to Deep Impact in 2016. Interestingly, Northern Farm also purchased Hot Cha Cha – Sims’ first ever Grade I winner – for $1 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

Keeneland has been a turning point for Don’t Tell Sophia at multiple points in her career. She captured the 2014 Grade I  Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at the track, upsetting a field that included multiple Grade I winner Close Hatches, and went on to be named an Eclipse Award finalist for champion older female.

Sims owned Don’t Tell Sophia in partnership with Jerry Namy. And while the decision to run her through the ring this year was the sound one from a business standpoint, it wasn’t a conclusion he arrived at with ease.

“Oh we went back and forth, there were a lot of sleepless nights,” Sims said. “At the end of the day, it’s business and we have to stay in business. And the risk is so much with these horses that, if the money was there, you had to go ahead and do what is right for business. But it was a very tough decision to do that.”

Let Faith Arise brings $2.1 million at Fasig-Tipton November

Grade I winner Let Faith Arise became the first to crack the seven-figure barrier at Sunday night’s Fasig-Tipton November sale when she sold to owner/breeder Marie Jones for $2.1 million.

Consigned by Taylor Made Sales, Let Faith Arise was sold in foal to leading sire Tapit and is out of the El Corredor mare Babe Hall. Let Faith Arise captured the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes and Grade III Adoration Stakes in 2014 and is by Kafwain.

“I loved her.  I just loved her conformation and her pedigree is great,” said Marie Jones, who along with her late husband Aaron Jones bred such champions as Speightstown and Ashado. “You always want to keep up your stock and I like her and I wanted to add her to my broodmare band.”

Jones, who bid while seated alongside Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, says she currently has about 12 broodmares in her boutique band.

“What you want is quality,” she said. “I’m very happy with her. You want the quality mares and quality runners. And if you want the quality you have to go out there and buy it. Plus what’s fun about this is my husband, Aaron, and I enjoyed this all so much.”

Jones said no decision has been made on who Let Faith Arise would be bred to in 2016 but that she does plan to sell the foal she is currently carrying.

“You buy the best, you breed the best and you hope to sell the best,” Jones smiled.


No ordinary champion: Baffert, Zayat prepare to say good-bye to American Pharoah

It is normally not the best of ideas to let a throng of people rush towards an animal with fight-or-flight instincts. But it is also fact at this point that American Pharoah isn’t anything close to a normal horse.

So it was that trainer Bob Baffert let fans that had gathered in Keeneland’s Rice Road barn area Sunday morning surround the 12th Triple Crown winner en masse for a similar – if not more harried version – of the meet and greet the Hall of Famer signed off on the morning after the Belmont Stakes.

The son of Pioneerof the Nile never flinched as a sea of hands reached out and fingers stretched in an attempt to touch the horse who moved a sport.

It was one more amazing act on his end, one last parting shot that left everyone awestruck.

“What I did with him, you can’t do to other horses,” Baffert him. “If I did this with other horses, you would have people heading to the hospital with broken ribs.”

At 8 a.m. on Monday, a van is set to pick the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner up from Keeneland and take him just over 11 miles down the road to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud where he will begin stallion duties in 2016.

Before the emotional send off, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat spent another morning basking in the surreal nature of their champion colt as he concluded his 11-race career with a 6 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

From the time he first had his first timed breeze, American Pharoah has been as close to the perfect racehorse as anything Baffert has laid hands on in his Hall of Fame career. There is the obvious, history making feat of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Yet even that statistic doesn’t fully illustrate how uniquely exceptional the bay colt was on the track.

Of his nine career wins, all but one came in Grade I company. And each of those eight Grade I triumphs came at different tracks, beginning with him breaking his maiden in the Del Mar Futurity last September 3 to his uncontested canter around Keeneland Saturday evening.

His career earnings of $8,650,300 make American Pharoah the fourth richest North American-based racehorse of all time and the $8,288,800 he earned this year alone is a single-season North American record.

“I know how good he is because I’ve trained some pretty good horses, we’ve had some really good horses run through here,” Baffert said. “They were fast but they just couldn’t sustain it like he could. With him, he was just a very gifted animal. I think his mechanics are the most important thing.

“He is just so good, he  withstood everything. He was tested and when he runs, I think those other horses know and go ‘Screw it’. That’s what he does. He has that, there is something about him And these horses are smart, they know.”

After American Pharoah’s runner-up finish to Keen Ice in the Grade I Travers Stakes, Baffert said he initially wasn’t even sure he was going to bring the surefire future Hall of Fame to the Breeders’ Cup stage.

“The first couple of weeks…I didn’t feel good about it and still until 3 weeks ago, he was not going to run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said. “He had to show me something. Then I started tightening the screws and jamming on him. Once I started that, he liked it. He was ready for anything that was going to be thrown at him yesterday.”

Ready or not, the racing world has to now let American Pharoah go to begin his second career. While the stud fee has yet to be announced, it figures to be on par with the lofty standard the colt has established.

Mile winner Tepin bound for Ocala
Tepin, who joined the elite ranks of females who beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, was bright-eyed and in good order Sunday for trainer Mark Casse.

Casse, who was 0-for-23 in Breeders’ Cup races coming into the week, scored two Breeders’ Cup wins as Catch a Glimpse took the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Casse said that Tepin will head to Ocala for a freshening  before heading to Palm Meadows Training Center to gear up for her 5-year-old campaign.

Runhappy in good order
Trainer Maria Borell said Sunday morning that Runhappy, who set a track record in winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, returned to The Thoroughbred Center on Saturday and “got a good night’s sleep in his own stall.

“He came out of the race well,” Borell said. “We don’t have exact plans; we wanted to see how he comes out of the race. We will figure it out in a few days.”

Effinex to stay in training
The James Jerkens-trained Effinex was reported to have come out of his second-place  Classic finish behind American Pharoah in fine shape.
The 4-year-old son of Mineshaft is scheduled to stay in training next year.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

An American Classic: Triple Crown champion rolls to Breeders’ Cup triumph

Owner Ahmed Zayat couldn’t bear to watch such a glorious scene come to end.

After three years of seeing the bay colt he bred develop into something that hasn’t been produced in a couple of generations, after witnessing start after start move his charge deeper into the history books and a sport off its jaded foundation, Zayat took one last glance at the 12th Triple Crown winner breaking the will of seven rivals in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and said his own silent farewell.

“I really did not watch the final eighth. I closed my eyes,” the founder of Zayat Stables said. “I see him opening. I know it’s done and I got extremely emotional and, you know, that’s all.”

No one connected to champion American Pharoah has wanted to fully accept that Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile  jaunt around Keeneland would be his final career start before heading off to stud. As it were, the last impression the son Pioneerof the Nile made was on par with every other key moment of his life.

He took all the hype, all the expectations, all the hope  placed upon his bay shoulders and answered the bell as if the most arduous of challenges were folly to him.

American Pharoah, the colt who swept the American classics with casual ease to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, made his last competitive outing another one for the ages as he captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 1/2 lengths in gate-to-wire fashion before a crowd of 50,155 that attended the second day of the two-day World Championships.

The margin of victory ties Volponi in 2002 for the largest ever in the Classic and the final time of 2:00.07 was a new track record for 1 1/4-miles.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup had been billed as a “homecoming” in that it was being held at Keeneland and in the heart of Central Kentucky for the first time in its 32 year history.

What it really served as was an encore to a coronation. While not every great athlete gets to walk off their playing field of choice with a championship in their grasp, Saturday’s Classic was the latest example of American Pharoah being all he was billed and then some.

“I just have never seen anything like him, never trained anything like him,” his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “I’m just glad that the Pharoah, he goes out the champ that he is, and it’s going to be sad to see him go. But I think he’s done enough.  He’s proved enough.”

American Pharoah retires with nine wins from 11 career starts and $8,650,300 in earnings. He could have been done proving anything, however, after he cemented his Triple Crown feat with his 5 1/2 length Belmont Stakes triumph on June 6.

To the delight of a racing nation, the colt kept working his flawless mechanics to the tune of a 2 1/4 length win in the Grade I Haskell Invitational on August 2. Then came the Grade I Travers Stakes where the oft-proclaimed “Graveyard of Champions” that is Saratoga jumped up and bit him  when he ran second to Keen Ice after taking all the heat from Frosted throughout that 10-furlong race.

“I felt bad for the horse, but…to me, racing, we’ve got this big horse, we can’t be afraid to run these horses,” Baffert said. “I’ve had horses that were maybe, on a given day, they were as fast as him, but they had a small window.  And his window has been wide open the whole time.”

Zayat is overly emotional in the best of times and, in the aftermath of the Travers, his initial feelings were telling him to just go ahead and send American Pharoah onto Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, where he will enter stud for 2016.

Baffert countered that he didn’t see a horse whose well had run dry. As usual, American Pharoah backed up his conditioner with another jaw dropping performance.

The complexion of the Classic totally changed when the champion mare Beholder was scratched out of the race due to a fever on Thursday and fellow Grade I winner Smooth Roller scratched Saturday morning due to a tendon issue.

With no one pressing him on the front end, American Pharoah had jockey Victor Espinoza on a joy ride as he broke sharply from post No. 4 and cantered through fractions of 23.99 and 47.50 with eventual runner-up Effinex hanging out a length behind him.

“When it came up with an eight-horse field, when two horses who looked like they had speed…scratched, everybody was riding to be safe,” said Shug McGaughey, trainer of multiple Grade I winner Honor Code, who closed as well as he could to get third.

With his mount’s ears pricked to the sky and the most perfect stride in the game in full flight, Espinoza lets his mount roll for all he was worth towards the wire, giving the crowd and the sport one last look at everything it hoped to see.

“I am so glad that American Pharoah goes out the champion he is,” Baffert said. “We’re all going to miss him.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Stephanie’s Kitten goes out with a roar in Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Practically every aspect of Stephanie’s Kitten’s final career start was telling her connections the fantasy send off they had in mind wasn’t meant to be.

About the two worst things that can happen to a turf horse is to be sitting last with zero pace to close into. And as the tepid fractions flew up during Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf with the bay mare’s white striped face at the rear of the 10-horse field, concern amongst her crew started morphing into dismal resignation.

That is until the old girl found arguably the best stride of her life. And four years after she first stormed her way into the Breeders’ Cup history books, Stephanie’s Kitten elicited one of the biggest outbursts from the family that redefines what it means to be passionate about the Thoroughbred industry.

The full circle journey of Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Stephanie’s Kitten finished with a most explosive kick as the 6-year-old daughter of Kitten’s Joy made her move inside and then surged clear between horses in midstretch to win the Filly & Mare Turf by 1 1/4 lengths over favored Legatissimo, one day before she is slated to be sold at the Fasig-Tipton November sale.

The triumph gives Stephanie’s Kitten her second career Breeders’ Cup victory as well as the distinction of the longest gap between Breeders’ Cup wins. The bay mare captured the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs and has been a Grade I winner at ages 2, 4, 5, and 6.
She is also the unofficial “family pet”. Ken Ramsey named his durable distaffer after his granddaughter Stephanie, one of the many reasons this particular runner tugs especially hard on his heartstrings.

As the wire approached Saturday and Stephanie’s Kitten’s 11th career win from 25 starts was secure, the man who holds nothing back in terms of emotion had it all come spilling down his face as his family embraced.

“It’s the culmination of all our breeding and everything that has gone into this,” Ken Ramsey said. “This has been a family pet, this is her third Breeders’ Cup (start) and it’s emotional.  I’ve had some highs and a few low and this is definitely one of the highs.”

Stephanie’s Kitten had her share of hard luck runs this season, dropping three straight races at one point before getting before her win in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park on October 3.

Where she sat close the pace that day, her position after breaking from post No.  9 left her at the back of the field Saturday as Secret Gesture went the opening half mile in 49.26 over a course rated good. After jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. started moving her up and picking off rivals on the rail, her stride kept growing under left-handed urging as she hit the wire in 1:56.22 for the 1 3/16 miles test.

“She was wide in the first turn and far behind, two things you don’t want in a turf race,” trainer Chad Brown said. “I’m just so proud of her, the way she kicked home. She just overcomes so much this filly. The two things we sort of learned about her is she didn’t care for Keeneland’s turf course and she doesn’t run inside horses. And she did all that today.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

American Pharoah set to write his final chapter in Breeders’ Cup Classic

He is the answer to the question that was endlessly speculated on for nearly four decades, the tangible evidence the Thoroughbred industry had sent a search party out to find, but was losing hope of discovering.

What would the modern racing world look like if it finally got to witness a Triple Crown winner again? A silver-bullet fix to racing’s ailments are thoroughly unreasonable to expect from a single entity. But the query of whether the end of a drought would live up to the collectively hope had been dangling like an albatross over Thoroughbred racing for 37 years.

In sauntered American Pharoah with his bottomless well of ability and indefatigable cruising speed. He made each leg of the American classics look easier than the one before and injected emotion into the most unshakable of hardboots.

In the months since his Belmont Stakes clincher on June 6, the son of Pioneerof the Nile has been a crossover ambassador featured on everything from fashion magazines (Vogue) to publications across the globe. Coincidentally or not, even overall handle on United States races has jumped .86 percent from to 2014 in the year to date comparison to this point.

The racing world has had nearly five months to drink in the champagne bubble of the 12th Triple Crown winner in history. Leading into Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, the reality of his existence is being overtaken by the actuality that the on-track exploits of the chosen one are coming to an end.

It is both a blessing and a stress for horsemen to know in advance they are leading over a legend for a final time.  With the 1 1/4-miles Classic set to be American Pharoah’s final start before retiring to Ashford Stud, his connections have had ample time to try and accept that the horse who multiple lives upside down in a joyous sense only has one more chance to take his greatness to another level.

“We’re taking it day by day,” said owner Ahmed Zayat, who also bred American Pharoah. “He’s a happy horse and I’m focused on keeping him happy until the day comes. This is a big race for him, this is his grand finale and I want him to go out (on top) for Pharoah. He’s changed everybody’s lives, he changed the sport, he’s changed everything. And we just want him to run the race of his life.”

The real way American Pharoah has spoiled everyone is by his continued presence on the racetrack. Where some thought the economics of the current racing landscape would translate into the champion colt being retired shortly after he cooled out following his 5 1/2 length Belmont Stakes triumph, Zayat and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert stuck to their word of showcasing the seven-time Grade I winner.

There was the high of his Grade I Haskell Invitational effort on August 2 where American Pharoah was geared down from midstretch on by jockey Victor Espinoza en route to a 2 1/4 length win. While his upset loss to Keen Ice in the Grade I Travers Stakes on  August 29 sparked regret over the decision to wheel back so soon after his Haskell venture, arguably the most painful thing his camp has had to sit with is the notion that their charge is going to end his racing days with a level of upside still within.

“Just watching him work (Monday)…it hits me when I talk about it,” Baffert said. “Just watching him train, watching the way he goes around there, it’s been an honor and a pleasure to train him. He’s just an incredible athlete.

“He’s a horse in the morning who is always brilliant, Pharoah is Pharoah,” added Zayat. “The more (Baffert) is working him, the more he is asking of him the more he is loving it. I’m kind of sad that he’s going to miss that part of it, of him going and doing what he loves which is to compete.”

The immediate impact of American Pharoah becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 was literally right in Zayat’s face post-Belmont.

“I will never forget the day, a grandfather comes to me and he gives me a kiss,  and I don’t know this man,” Zayat recalled. “And he looks at me and says, ‘I just want to thank you’. But it’s not about me, it’s about the horse. That’s what this horse has done for the fans.”

On Wednesday morning  while watching American Pharoah walk the shedrow instead of training over the rain-drenched main track, Baffert showed the live feed of the Santa Anita Park stall that the best horse he’s ever conditioned occupied until yesterday.

It sits empty now, and Baffert has given orders for it not to be filled yet. After Saturday, tending to the void will be a new mantle for the entire racing community to take up.

“It’s getting a little bit tough,” Baffert said. “I feel like his father and I want to make sure my son goes out there and puts on a good performance.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Smooth Roller scratched out of Classic

Grade I winner Smooth Roller, who was a candidate to challenge Triple Crown winner American Pharoah on the front end, has been scratched by the stewards from the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Saturday.

Smooth Roller’s scratch came on the recommendation of Kentucky State Veterinarian Will Farmer due to a ‘tendon’ issue in his left foreleg.

With Smooth Roller scratched and champion Beholder being declared out of the race on Thursday, this year’s Classic field is reduced to eight horses and is tied with the 1984, 1985 and 1989 Classics for the smallest field ever.

Trained by Victor Garcia, Smooth Roller has only made four career starts but earned his way into the Classic field with a win in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on September 26. Speculation about his status for the Classic has swirled since he arrived in Kentucky on October 19 as the 4-year-old Hard Spun gelding had not worked since going five furlongs at Santa Anita on October 17 and did little more than job during his training at Keeneland.

With both Smooth Roller and Beholder out of the Classic,  Grade I winner Frosted would seem to be the only remaining entrant capable of putting any pressure on American Pharoah on the front end.




Stopchargingmaria a dream come true for Town and Country in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Kiki Courtelis and her mother moved from Florida to Kentucky eight years ago for a simple reason. After years of involvement with Arabian show horses – heading up the breeding stock for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum no less – they wanted in on the Thoroughbred industry. And they wanted to be in the heartland to do it.

Around this time last year, Courtelis came to the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion with equally determined intentions. She wanted a filly to her family’s Town and County Farms on the map.

What she got was a distaffer who has now put her operation on a list alongside some of the most influential owners the sport has seen.


The first day of first Breeders’ Cup hosted by Keeneland yielded the kind of result that drives parties into the Thoroughbred business to begin with. Multiple Grade I winner Stopchargingmaria gave Town and Country its first Breeders’ Cup victory in its initial try when she held off Stellar Wind and then survived a claim of foul to win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff by a neck before a crowd of 44,947.

“It’s just a dream come true to be a breeder and win the Breeders’ Cup with such an amazing filly with so much heart,” Courtelis said. “We wanted to get a filly who would put us on the map in Thoroughbred racing and we took a chance and thought it would be her.”

Plans never pan out as simply as they are crafted. And part of the reason Stopchargingmaria landed in the hands of Courtelis and racing manager Shannon Potter was due to one goal going awry.

A multiple Grade I winner at age 3, Stopchargingmaria was offered up for sale by owner Mike Repole last November but ended up a buyback at $3.15 million. It was then that trainer Todd Pletcher, who has conditioned the daughter of Tale of the Cat throughout her now 16-race career, suggested the Town and County crew try to buy the dark bay filly privately.

“Todd was with us when we bid on another horse…and he said, ‘Hey, why don’t we take a run at Stopchargingmaria’,” Potter said. “He said ‘I think she’ll continue to just flourish’.  So we struck a deal with Mike, and that’s kind of how it came about.

“We were looking for a horse, not necessarily looking for Maria. But boy…we were lucky we didn’t get the one we bid on so we could get Maria.”


Stopchargingmaria is a filly that runs best fresh. Hence, Pletcher has only given her four prior starts this season and opted to not to squeeze one more Breeders’ Cup prep into her after she finished fourth in the Grade I Personal Ensign on August 29.

With Javier Castellano in the irons, Stopchargingmaria was on point after breaking from post No. 4 as she rated in an outside path in fifth alongside race favorite Wedding Toast while My Sweet Addiction carved out an opening half mile in 47.28.


She came with her sustained run four wide around the final turn and hooked up with Stellar Wind to her outside. Though jockey Victor Espinoza lodged a claim of foul against Stopchargingmaria saying Castellano moved out on him, the stewards let the result stand.

“I felt pretty comfortable watching the head-on that we were going to be OK,” said Pletcher who earned his ninth career Breeders’ Cup win and also saddled third-place finisher Curalina. “She runs her best races sometimes when she’s fresh. I think that was the key, and how she trained here. I thought her work last Saturday was exceptional.”

Final time for the 1 1/8-miles distance was 1:48.98.

A beaming Courtelis said as long as Stopchargingmaria is healthy, the door is open for her to return to racing next year and try and add to her stockpile of nine wins and $2,924,000 in earnings.

“She gives 150 percent every single time,”  Courtelis said. “I just think she goes after everything knowing she’s going to win.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Liam’s Map goes out on top with Dirt Mile victory

There are times when one can brace for the expected and still be bowled over by its  reality.

After having to check up at the start and then having to rate his brilliant self behind rivals, Liam’s Map swung out on the final turn and unleashed that crushing blaze of speed most everyone figured would have no rival in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland on Friday.

The son of Unbridled’s Song proved all those expectations valid when hit the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front of his 10 challengers, the eight furlong distance the only thing preventing the margin from being wider.

They may have known it was coming. But it didn’t stop exercise rider Nick Bush from running joyously after his favorite charge onto the track. It didn’t stop Taylor Made Farm president Duncan Taylor from falling over himself with emotion. It didn’t stop trainer Todd Pletcher from chucking his stoic demeanor and plastering the widest of smiles on his face.

The final chapter of Liam’s Map’s short, but exceptional, career was storybook. The 4-year-old gray colt – who is retiring to stud at Lane’s End Farm for 2016 – overcame a slow start and having to steady more than once under jockey Javier Castellano before blowing by fellow Grade I winner Lea in the stretch to earn his sixth win in eight career starts.

Liam’s Map became the fourth Breeders’ Cup winner for his sire Unbridled’s Song, the flagship stallion for Taylor Made Farm who passed away in 2013.

“This horse is the best I’ve ever sat on,” beamed Bush as he stood with the blanket of flowers draped over his shoulders. “We wanted to go to the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic with him but the (1 1/4 miles) distance was kind of a question.

“He’s unbelievable. He’s freakish. The way he moves…the way he does everything.”

Liam’s Map has been wicked on the front end, as evidence by his gate-to-wire, 4 3/4-length triumph in the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga on September 5.

In the Dirt Mile, he showed he could equally handle being taken out of his game. After gathering himself up after getting away slow out of post No. 3, 1-to-2 favorite Liam’s Map rated fourth on the rail behind Bradester as that one was pushed by Mr. Z through an opening quarter in 23.10.

Castellano had to hit the breaks around the half mile mark when Liam’s Map ran up on those two. But when Lea took over the lead on the final turn, Liam’s Map came up outside of Mr. Z and found his best run en route to covering the distance in a track record time of 1:34.54.

“What was so impressive is that he recovered a couple times,” said Pletcher, who later won the Distaff with Stopchargingmaria. “He got steadied about the five-eighths pole and didn’t have anywhere to go. He took it to another level today. It’s hard to find horses this talented.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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