Emotion overflowed on the Keeneland turf course Sunday, a result of Peace Achieved's hard-fought victory in the G3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes. It was the first time owner Joe Minor had seen his silks enter the winner's circle for a graded stakes race, but he gave the honor of leading the colt up for the photo to his daughter.
“One of the biggest thrills for an owner is leading his horse into the winner's circle, but I told David (Carroll, assistant trainer) in the paddock, 'When this horse wins, I'm not going to walk him in. I want Kristin to walk him in,'” Minor recalled. “I don't know that Kristin has ever led a horse anywhere, so I told David he was going to have to help her… Kristin was just ecstatic.”
Kristin Cooke, who has two daughters of her own, recently surprised her father by flying to Florida for a weekend visit.
“I was getting over pneumonia, but I didn't want to worry her,” Minor said. “So every time she called, I'd tell her I was fine. One day she called and I told her I was resting, and she said she was at the front door!”
The visit meant a lot to Minor, 69, who grew up as one of seven children and lost his own father at the age of 13. When Cooke
was able to attend Sunday's race, her father wanted it to be extra special.
Peace Achieved's victory was special for Minor as well, of course. He had seen horses he's bred and sold win at the top level of the sport, including G1 Starlet winner Dream Tree and three-time Grade 1 winner Bellafina, and he had also shared ownership with John Greathouse in multiple Grade 2 winner Blofeld.
Still, the chance to head to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with his own horse, a horse he picked out, is an entirely new feeling.
“I've had a couple close calls, but it's so elusive to win at this level,” said Minor. “It was beyond special to win, everybody was crying, even David and Mark (Casse, trainer) teared up. It was an emotionally-charged winner's circle, for sure, and hopefully we go on to the Breeders' Cup.”
Minor first saw Peace Achieved out of the corner of his eye at last year's Keeneland September sale. He was standing at the Four Star Sales consignment barn with Justin Casse, looking for horses to pinhook through the 2-year-old sales with Ciaran Dunne, when the bay colt caught his attention.
“I don't pretend to be a bloodstock agent, but you can kind of see a balance and a presence,” Minor said. “I asked Justin what he thought of him and he liked him, but he added that Declaration of War was not necessarily a great pinhooking choice. Still, I liked this horse so I bought him on my own.”
Sent down to Dunne's Ocala base for his early training, Peace Achieved didn't turn any heads, said Minor. He did everything right, he just didn't stand out. The colt was ready in time to be entered in the Gulfstream sale in March, but his breeze of 10 3/5 didn't do him any favors.
Hours before the colt entered the sales ring, Minor asked Dunne whether any parties had expressed interest, and eventually opted to pull him from the sale. Peace Achieved, still unnamed at that time, was sent to trainer Mark Casse's Ocala farm and would stay in training.
Minor had developed a close friendship with Casse's assistant, David Carroll, and asked that the colt be sent to his string when it came time for him to head to the racetrack. In mid-May, Carroll called and said it was time to name the horse because he wanted to enter him.
“I had several horses with 'War' in their names, and I had some bad luck with them,” said Minor, laughing. “So I said, 'Let's name his something with Peace in it.' Of course I like achievement, so this just came right to the top of my head.”
In his first start at Churchill in late May, Peace Achieved showed that he wanted to fight with a closing third-place finish in the five-furlong turf contest. He didn't show much in his second start, but Carroll added blinkers and Peace Achieved “ran off the screen” to break his maiden by 6 ¾ lengths at Ellis Park in late July.
The colt returned to win the Juvenile Stakes at Kentucky Downs by 2 ½ lengths in his next start.
“It was 108 degrees that day, and he came back like he didn't run,” Minor said. “He shipped back to Churchill Downs, ate up, and then laid down and went to sleep. That's just what he does – in fact, an hour before the Bourbon, David had to go into his stall and wake him up!”
In the Bourbon, Peace Achieved laid second until the far turn when he edged clear, then held off the late run of Vitalogy to win by a neck.
“It was the first time he's had to fight, and we think he'll move forward from it,” said Minor. “He's just aware of everything, he takes it all in, but nothing bothers him. Mark and David think he will like the Santa Anita turf, so we like our shot.”
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