Stars Align for Keeneland Spring

Multi-millionaire Richard's Kid is just one of the talented contenders at Keeneland

By Claire Novak, all photos by Anne Eberhardt

LEXINGTON, Ky (April 7, 2013) -- A conglomeration of equine stars has assembled at Keeneland for the upcoming season, which is no surprise given the quality this meeting attracts. From the local contingent comes reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan. From the West Coast, multi-millionare Richard's Kid. Shipping in from Florida is a group of top contenders led by four-time grade I-winning turf star Point of Entry, who will train here for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey leading up to a start in the May 4 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs. And speaking of turf contenders, don't forget defending Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) winner Daisy Devine, who looks to defend her title April 13. Then there are the 3-year-old stars like Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) victor Uncaptured and Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Rydilluc, and others pointing for a start in the April 13 Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), all with the hopes of making the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). For an April 6 story on the pre-race works of several Blue Grass contenders, click here.

The always classy Point of Entry and his old-school water bucket

It is a time for new beginnings, for hefty challenges, for top-notch racing and significant accomplishments for horses and humans alike. The racing world converges upon Keeneland, and "Welcome to the Blue Grass" is what the historic oval seems to say. Spring is in the air. 


Ken Ramsey and the "Ramseyettes," jockeys Julien Leparoux and James Graham

As close to a sure thing as you'll get at the Keeneland meeting is a horse owned by Ken & Sarah Ramsey finding its way to the winner's circle in the first on opening day. Awesome Flower got the job done for Team Ramsey when racing returned to the Commonwealth, this 4-year-old Flower Alley filly taking home the money for trainer Mike Maker and jockey Joel Rosario second time off the claim. A cheerful Ramsey was shaking hands all around in the paddock before the second, which also featured the red and white silks of the Ramsey family, and Maker had Starsilhouette ready to rumble with a powerful move off the turn under jockey Alan Garcia. The 6-year-old daughter of Orientate is unbeaten with two starts in 2013 and strung together three straight wins with the victory April 5.

"We're gonna try to come in here and get it off to a good start like we did at Gulfstream," said Ramsey, pointing to a remarkably strong 43-win season as leading owner at the South Florida oval, where Ramsey-owned runners were winning at a 30% clip and finishing in the money 62% of the time.

Although the Ramseys did not win the Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) in which they had two runners--one ridden by Julien Leparoux and one ridden by James Graham--they did manage a third-place finish with Leparoux's mount, a 3-year-old Kitten's Joy gelding named Redwood Kitten. On April 6, they also won the opener with the 5-year-old Pulpit gelding Kingsford Drive... and they have Fear the Kitten prepping for the Blue Grass.   


Wise Dan gives exercise rider Damian Rock a workout while galloping April 2

House horse Wise Dan has been training at Keeneland with his usual enthusiasm, and admirers of fine athleticism can't help staring in admiration as the powerful chestnut gelding hauls exercise rider Damian Rock around the track every morning in preparation for a start in the April 12 Maker's 46 MIle (gr. IT). Trainer Charlie LoPresti has been his usual thoughtfuly optimistic self, plotting out not only the 2013 debut of the best horse he's ever trained, but the return of half-brother Successful Dan.

"It's pretty cool to be in this position, and nerve-wracking at the same time," LoPresti remarked April 2. "That's why I'm on my tractor at home or working my bird dogs or something. Everybody wants to know when they're gonna work. I'll say, 'I don't know when they're going to work!' I have to think about stuff."

While LoPresti may leave room for variation in day-to-day training regimens, he remains crystal clear on two matters regarding the brothers Dan. They won't run if they so much as turn a hair in the wrong direction, but if all goes well, race targets will be carefully chosen to set up for exciting year-long campaigns.

Succesful Dan gave LoPresti and his team, including wife Amy, a schooling in disappointments last year when a recurring suspensory issue put him on the sidelines after a runner-up finish to eventual Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned in theJune 30 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (gr, III). The son of Successful Appeal is pointing for his first race since then in the April 21 Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III).

"He's doing really good," LoPresti said. "We had him over there at Doctor Bramlage's, and everything looks really good. We'd just like to give him a little more time. With a horse like that, every race is an important one, and you don't want to run them too many times to the year end, so we're really looking at the Ben Ali for him. If he's not 100 percent he won't run in the Ben Ali; he might run in the (May 3) Alysheba (gr. II, at Churchill Downs). Whenever Successful Dan runs we're going to target the bigger races for him, we're not just going to run him in an allowance."

Remembering the experience with Successful Dan keeps LoPresti realistic even as his contenders are training lights out.

"We're pretty lucky but maybe it won't be like last year; who knows?" he said. "You don't know until you put them in the starting gate. I hope they run good. They're doing good, I think... but you worry when's it gonna end, you know? You walk in the barn one day and you check one of these horses' legs and something's wrong. Because I've been there, I know about that, look at Successful Dan at Saratoga. He would have been one of the favorites for the Whitney, and I had to put him on the van and send him home."

Fingers crossed, for now, all appears well with the "A Team" led by champ Wise Dan.

"There's a big target on his back, I know," LoPresti said. "Everybody wants to beat him, I mean, he's Horse of the Year. Of course I don't want him to get beat, but as long as he runs good and he comes back good, that's a good first race of the year for us."

Then he smiled.

"I think we've got him pretty good right now," he said. 

[brightcove videoid="2279726496001"]


Richard's Kid is here from California for a change of scenery, a reboot of sorts. Just as humans sometimes need new surroundings to help reinvigorate their enthusiasm for life, so does the Doug O'Neill trainee.

"He seems like an absolute new horse," O'Neill assistant Jack Sisterson said April 2. "They all shipped in and we walked and then we jogged them all. Even the 2-year-olds we have were calm, but he acted like a 2-year-old. He was full of energy and just couldn't wait to get out there. He seems to have handled the surface fine and he's eaten everything up so hopefully the little change in scenery can get him back in the winner's circle."

The 8-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid has an 11-3-10 record from 42 starts, with earnings of $2,313,860, but hasn't found victory since a 1 1/2-length score in the Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) going 1 1/2 miles on the all-weather track at Del Mar. Purchased by his current connections and transfered from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to O'Neill, the three-time grade I winner has managed three thirds--in the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I), Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), and Tokyo City Cup Stakes (gr. III)--since then.

"He's 100% sound, but maybe he just needs a little change in scenery to spark back some interest," Sisterson said. "We thought, we're bringing horses back to Keeneland, why not throw him on the flight and try and point towards the Ben Ali with him? I think he can run with the best of them; he's got so much talent, and if he can find any of his previous performances in him, I think he'll be the one to beat. As he's training for us right now, he's showing us that he's found that spot we need to get him back in the winner's circle."

Other O'Neill trainees pointing toward stakes races at the meet include Reddam Racing's 2012 Pennsylvania Derby winner Handsome Mike and Zillah Reddam's Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) winner Rene's Titan, respective candidates for the April 13 Commonwealth Stakes (gr. III) and the April 14 Beaumont Presented by Keeneland Select Stakes (gr. II). The pair worked together April 5, going a half in :47 4/5. Keeneland clockers caught the first quarter-mile in :23 3/5 and had a gallop-out time of 1:01 3/5 for five furlongs.

Sisterson has 12 horses at Keeneland for O'Neill, who has kept a string at the Lexington oval for the first time instead of quickly shipping in and out for stakes.


One highlight on the Blue Grass Stakes undercard is the Jenny Wiley (gr. I), a 1 1/16-mile turf test for older fillies and mares won last season by the aptly-named Daisy Devine. James Miller's 5-year-old daughter of Kafwain is back at Keeneland for a defense run, with three wins and two runner-up finishes since she last galloped over the Lexington lawn.

Jockey James Graham has been aboard Daisy Devine for 13 of her 18 starts and six of her 10 wins, including last year's Jenny Wiley. April 4, he worked the filly five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 around the dogs over the firm Keeneland turf. Track clockers caught "Daisy" going the first three furlongs in :39 3/5, with a :23 final quarter while working on her own. 


"Quite lovely," is how Graham described the work. "Just the way you’d want them to work before you run in the grade I. Comfortable and just did everything that was required. I can’t say any more than that."

But Graham, a 33-year-old native of Ireland, had plenty more to say on the general subject of one of his favorite mounts.

"She's something different, I know that," he said. "She's only been off the board three times in her life. The first time I rode her when I win on her, she was kind of a little spooky that day; she was shying from horses and stuff, but not any more. She does anything you want her to in a race."

Graham's first win on Daisy Devine came Dec. 2, 2010, in a six-furlong dirt event at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. 

"She was a little difficult early on in her career, as you’d have with your average horses," he recalled. "But after her first race, the light started to come on, and she took a step forward every time she was working down in New Orleans and she seemed to excel down there."

Daisy Devine made seven starts and won three on dirt, including a victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) and a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She was fifth in the Iowa Oaks (gr. III) and fifth in the Indiana Oaks (gr. II) before trainer Andrew McKeever moved her to turf.

"Right after she won the Fair Grounds Oaks, she started to grow a little bit, and I think that contributed to her--not running 'poorly' in the Kentucky Oaks, but it just wasn’t her day," Graham said. "Then she went over to Iowa and probably was still growing and just never fired in Iowa. We tried to get her right in the Indiana Oaks and she ran a good race and got beat up leaving the gate too, which didn’t help. She ran a decent race and after that she hasn't run a bad race since. She came back and rattled off four in a row."

Daisy's first try on the turf on October 21, 2011 came at Keeneland, where she won the Pin Oak Valley View Stakes (gr. IIIT) under Calvin Borel. Off that Valley View victory, the filly strung together her four straight wins.

"Once she got on the grass, she just excelled," said Graham. "She’s probably one of the highest category horses I’ve ever ridden, which also makes her one of my favorites... it’s just the way that she’s progressed me from riding just your average horse to riding really good horses. She took me there. She’s that type. Winning the Jenny Wiley on her was probably one of the highest moments of my career. We won the Fair Grounds Oaks as a 3-year-old when she was only mentally coming together, and when she ran the first time in the stakes, the Silverbulletday, I probably waited a little too long (to move with her), and the filly that beat her (Bouquet Booth) was a solid, solid filly then."

Graham has become well-acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of Daisy Devine. Although she's a running machine in the afternoons, she can be a bit quirky in the mornings.

"Every once in a while she sees a few things still," he said. "On the track, you could be galloping by the eighth pole in the mornings and she’ll just (snap) sideways. But that’s her. If she’s not doing that, there’s something wrong. When she gets here she gets all happy in the mornings.Galloping to the pole one morning in New Orleans, galloping, just loping over nice and easy, there was nothing in the infield. Nothing. And she went probably six paths out in two jumps. She doesn’t let you know it’s going to happen, she just does it. But in a race, you can do anything you want with her.

"If you ever look at her races, she never seems to pin her ears and lay down," Graham went on. "I don’t think she can; they’re so long. You take a picture of her and she’s got a long head and then her ears are long. Her ears are probably half the length of her face. My kids have fed her peppermints." 

A head second in an off-the-turf edition of the Feb. 23 Bayou Handicap at Fair Grounds will propel Daisy to her Jenny Wiley defense. In that race, she spotted 11 pounds to the winner, carrying 126 while Snuggs and Kisses carried 115.

Here's the question all will ask: Is she as good as she was coming into the Jenny Wiley as she was last year?

"She got bigger and stronger, and she seems to be happy," Graham said. "She just needs to be Daisy, because if Daisy’s happy, everybody’s happy. If she’s happy she generally runs in a really good way."

"The Keeneland Files" will appear at twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays, through April 28.

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