By Esther Marr
On the final Sunday morning of the 2013 Keeneland spring meet, there was still plenty of activity on the Keeneland backstretch. While most of the remaining Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I)-bound horses had already shipped to Churchill Downs, others were still plugging away at the Lexington oval in preparation for their next outings.
Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable's two-time graded stakes winner Al Khali, who is expected to make his next start in Keeneland's Elkhorn Stakes (gr. II) April 26, worked a half-mile in :49 2/5 on the main track April 21.
Al Khali, photo by Mathea Kelley
Rodolphe Brisset, assistant to trainer Bill Mott, was aboard the 7-year-old Medaglia d'Oro ridgling, who was fifth in an allowance race at Keeneland April 6. Clockers caught Al Khali in splits of :13 1/5, :25.20, :37 and galloping out in 1:02 3/5.
Al Khali scored his previous graded stakes wins in the 2010 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) and the 2009 Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT). In his other two Keeneland starts, the Kentucky-bred finished second and first, respectively in 2009 and 2012 allowance contests.
Bred by Emory Hamilton, the ridgling holds an overall record of 8-5-5 from 35 starts, for earnings of $991,043.
"We've been very pleased at how he has run in his two races off the layoff," said co-owner Adam Wachtel of Al Khali, who was sidelined from September 2012-March 2013. "The last race (when he was fifth at Keeneland April 6) was actually a really good race on the figures I use--one of his better efforts.
"It was a super tough allowance race and we got caught out wide around the turns, which didn't help," Wachtel added of the 1 1/18-mile test. "But, the bottom line is these shorter distance are optimal for him. We really just wanted to get a couple of races under his belt before the longer races this summer. The Elkhorn was not one of our original plans, but he loves Keenland so we considered it."
Wachtel said Mott was pleased with Al Khali's most recent work and plans to go forward with the Elkhorn based on that effort. Garrett Gomez has the riding assignment.
"He rode him last summer at Woodbine when we were just beaten in the Northern Dancer (Can-IT) in one of our best races ever," said Wachtel. "(Al Khali) didn't seem to love the (Keeneland) surface but it was just a maintenance work is all. But we know he runs well on the turf at Keenland and are hoping he runs a big race."
It would be an understatement to say Dominican Republic-born jockey Joel Rosario's first full meet at Keeneland has thus far been a successful one. As of April 20, Rosario maintained a clear lead over the Lexington oval's jockey colony with 26 wins, double the number posted by Julien Leparoux for second.
Winner of the April 14 Beaumont Stakes (gr. II) with Ciao Bella Luna and April 18 Appalachian Stakes (gr. III) with Unbelievable Dream, Rosario is chasing the 32-win total set by Randy Romero in the spring of 1990.
Rosario aboard Ciao Bella Luna; photo by Keeneland/Coady Photography
Rosario boosted his spring totals with a five-win day April 18, and four-win days April 7 and April 20.
Rosario's advantage at Keeneland this season is especially impressive considering he was absent on two of the track's biggest days due to prior commitments.
During his time spent away from Lexington, Rosario finished third aboard Vyjack in the April 6 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct and seventh with Grace Hall in the April 14 Apple Blossom Stakes (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park.
Rosario, who has been confirmed as the jockey to ride Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I), Orb in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), also scored a scintillating victory aboard Animal Kingdom in the March 30 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
Rosario's agent Ronny Anderson had nothing but praise for the jockey, who grew up riding horses bareback on his family's farm.
"Joel is a really good rider and he's been very well received by everybody (at Keeneland)," said Anderson, who over the years has represented by other such prominent jockeys as Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and Gary Stephens. "So far we've been very lucky and it's all going really well."
Anderson told a story of how Rosario's original life dream was in baseball rather than horse racing.
"All kids in the Dominican Republic this day in age think they're going to be professional baseball players--they just assume they're going to be good enough to go to the big leagues," said Anderson with a laugh. "So (Rosario) played every day of the year. When he was six or seven, his uncle told him he wasn't going to be big enough to play baseball, but maybe he try riding horses and attend the jockey school."
After attending his native country's jockey school for six months, Rosario obtained his jockey's license at age 14 and began riding at Hipódromo V Centenario in Santo Domingo where he got his first win in July 2000. He went on to win four Dominican Republic riding titles. In 2006 he immigrated to the United States, where he has been based in California.
"He's just the nicest, sweetest kid and has a real high confidence level in himself, but he doesn't come off as arrogant or cocky; he's very appreciative," said Anderson. "I'm so impressed by him...he's just a quality kid."
When asked if Rosario would start making Keeneland's spring meet a regular part of his yearly schedule, Anderson didn't give a definite answer.
"We'll see how the Belmont Park fall meet goes...I don't like to think too far in advance, but that's definitely a consideration," he said.
When Scealeile won the first race April 20, owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey scored their 13th victory of the spring meet, surpassing the record of 12 wins they held with Calumet Farm and Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Roberts. By the end of the 10-race card, the Ramseys had added two more victories by winning the seventh race with Awesome Flower and the 10th race with Suyeta.
The Ramseys, who own Ramsey Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., had three winners April 7, and had started 45 horses through April 20. They have seven horses entered April 21, six horses entered for April 24, and seven horses entered for April 25. With all this activity, Ken Ramsey believes the number of wins will grow.
"I'm going to raise the bar up so my grandkids are going to have the fun of trying to break it a few years down the road," he said. "I hope when it's broke I'll be pushing up daisies."
Meanwhile, the Ramseys are closing in on another Keeneland milestone. Horses they have raced have won seven graded stakes at the Lexington track. With one more graded stakes victory, they will receive a gold tray as part of Keeneland's signature graded stakes trophy program. Only 17 other owners in Keeneland history have achieved such an accomplishment.