Most 2-year-olds headed to auction in the spring have a fairly conventional method of doing so: Train up to the under-tack show, breeze under the clock for a furlong or two, go through the sale ring, and prepare for a debut start later in the year. In contrast, Mean Sophia's path to the Keeneland April 2-Year-Olds In Training And Horses Of Racing Age Sale makes her an entirely different animal.
Within the span of six days, the Smarty Jones filly has gone from an unraced 2-year-old, to a 10 1/2-length maiden winner, to a highly sought-after supplemental entry in the Keeneland April sale, to a potentially lucrative return on investment for owner Savannah Goebel on the first horse she's ever owned.
Keeneland traditionally kicks off its spring meet with a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds, and Mean Sophia broke from the second post in a full field in last Thursday's opener. Goebel knew it was an ambitious spot for the filly, who doesn't turn 2 years old on the traditional calendar until May 15, but having broken and galloped the filly, she knew what she had under her. A bullet work on March 22 at The Thoroughbred Center confirmed her suspicion the filly was ready for the racetrack.
“We went to the gate the first few times, and she took on quick,” Goebel said. “She started to love it. By the third break, she wanted to go, and I knew she was going to be good.
“She was getting stronger and bigger, and just wasn't getting tired,” she continued. “We'd start doing longer gallops with her, and she started pulling more. She wasn't giving us any signs of backing down, so we decided to go, and we could at least get third.”
Goebel and trainer Cirilo Gorostieta had looked over the program and kept their expectations realistic. Third place money in a race with a $60,000 purse would have paid for Mean Sophia's modest purchase price and handled a few other expenses.
When the gates broke, jockey Agustin Gomez hustled Mean Sophia to the front and put an insurmountable lead over their rivals by the time they hit the turn. A five-length advantage at the top of the stretch drew out to 10 1/2 lengths when they hit the wire, at odds of 13-1.
“My mom and my sister drove from Evansville [Indiana], about three hours, and then when she hit that quarter pole, all of us were just yelling, 'Keep going! Stay on, jock!'” Goebel said. “When she won, I didn't know what to do. My mom and sister decided to stay the night and mess with her the next day.”
Breezing an eighth of a mile alone in pristine conditions can only tell one so much about a horse's fortitude. Mean Sophia had proven she could stare down competition on a big stage and leave them gasping for air. Goebel said the offers to buy the filly came immediately. The first one came when the horse had barely been untacked.
“I was in the winner's circle and went straight up to Cirilo, introduced myself,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales. “I said, 'That was very impressive. You know, we've got a sale next Tuesday,' and he goes, “Everything's for sale.'
After hearing overtures from numerous contenders, Goebel and Gorostieta decided to enter Mean Sophia in the Keeneland April sale the day following her breakout performance and let the buyers decide things for themselves.
“My phone was ringing, and then people found me on Facebook and were messaging me,” she said. “They were calling Cirilo and blowing his phone up, however they could find to get in contact with us, especially Friday morning. I think we were on the phone more than we were doing anything else, and we had two horses racing Friday, so it was crazy. We're still getting phone calls, and we're just telling people she's entered in the sale and we'd love for them to come over and check her out. We had her already done with the vet, and everything was clean. She's ready to go.”
At this point, just about anything Mean Sophia does will be playing with house money for the 23-year-old Goebel.
A native of Evansville, Ind., Goebel entered horse racing at age 15 through her trainer ex-stepmother, working for her on weekends and during the summer. She started exercise riding for her a year later and eventually went to gallop for western Kentucky-based trainer John Hancock, who has himself become a staple of Keeneland's April 2-year-old races.
Under Hancock's tutelage, Goebel took 14 mounts as an apprentice jockey in 2014 and 2015 before deciding to focus her energies elsewhere in the business. She moved to Lexington, Ky., last fall.
Mean Sophia came into the picture when Gorostieta was contacted by a bloodstock agent who purchased the Calumet Farm-bred filly as a weanling for $3,700 at the 2017 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. The trainer wasn't sold on the filly, but Goebel saw something she could work with and bought her privately.
“He said, 'She's just so small,' and he sent me pictures of her, and I thought she was small, but she looked good,” Goebel said. “She was straight-legged. Then he said, 'She's mean.' I asked what he meant, and he said she was turned out with another gelding and she was chasing him off and wouldn't let him come up to the gate. I said, 'Well, that's what you want.'”
The filly's attitude might seem like a simple explanation for her name but Goebel said the decision was a family affair.
“When I moved down here from Evansville, my sister was very, very upset,” Goebel said. “She's only 13, and I used to take her everywhere, so I told her, 'I'm going to name a horse after you.' She told me it'd better be a bay because that's her favorite color, so I picked a bay.
“She's out of a mare named Quite Dramatic, and my sister's quite dramatic, so I thought I'd name her Dramatic Sophia,” she continued. “But then I thought about it and my sister's not really dramatic, she's just mean, so that's how she got the name Mean Sophia.”
Though the name is rather threatening, Goebel said the equine Mean Sophia mellowed out quite a bit once she got to work.
“When I walk on the track with her, I can walk on with just one hand [on the rein] and not have to worry about anything,” she said. “I like to talk with the outriders, so we'll just stand there and chat for a little while, and she'll just stand on the rail like it's the daily routine.”
For a horse with so many obvious sentimental ties, Goebel said the decision to enter Mean Sophia into the Keeneland April sale wasn't a hard one to make. She and Gorostieta will consign the filly themselves under the C.G. Racing Stables shingle, and she'll go through the ring on Tuesday as Hip 95.
“Once the phone calls came in, we decided it would be easier to put her in the sale, let everyone come see her, and see all the X-rays, and come bid on her and see what she's worth,” Goebel said. “It's our first time selling, so we're excited and nervous all at the same time.”
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