Jockey Jose Ortiz missed opening day of the five-date RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs, but the track's 2018 riding champion has made the most of the three days he has ridden, including sweeping Sunday's $600,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby under Social Paranoia and the $348,250 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks with Princesa Carolina.
Ortiz won three races Sunday, seven over the weekend and a meet-leading eighth overall while scheduled to ride all 10 races on Thursday's closing card of America's most unique race meet. Last year, Ortiz won nine races, the most in a single meet since Florent Geroux won 12 in 2016.
“What can I say? It's awesome,” Ortiz said.
The Elkstone Group's Social Paranoia had run well in each of his previous 10 races, but he finally put it all together to win the $600,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby by a half-length over Ry's the Guy.
The winner was timed in 2:08.50 for 1 5/16th-mile, breaking the course record of 2:08.85 set one race earlier by Princesa Carolina in the Dueling Grounds Oaks.
It was Social Paranoia's first stakes victory, though he was a close second in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby and had three thirds in graded stakes before that. In his last start, he was fourth in the Saratoga Derby Invitational.
“He's always trained like a nice horse, always run well on both surfaces,” trainer Todd Pletcher, who won last year's Dueling Grounds Derby with Channel Cat, said by phone from Lexington. “He's obviously been really holding up with top competition. We felt like he'd handle the course, hoped to get an inside draw and a good trip and it worked out.”
After running on dirt for his first four races, it took the 3-year-old son of Street Boss six starts to win a race, which he won by eight at Gulfstream Park. Was it a matter of getting Social Paranoia to what he really wanted to do, which seems to be running long on turf?
Maybe that and “we were aggressive with him also, ran him in a stakes as a maiden,” Pletcher said, referencing a third place in the Grade 3 Pilgrim. “But he'd always impressed us in his training that he was a quality horse, so I was happy to see him get that breakthrough win today.”
Social Paranoia had to fight harder for the win than some expected as the odds-on favorite but showed his class in the final furlong.
“Lovely trip all the way around there,” Ortiz said. “He relaxed well, that's the most important thing. He got up the hill beautiful, down the hill beautiful, and then I had to work my way out from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole, follow the two leaders. Finally, I knew when Chris (Landeros, on Ry's the Guy) would make his horse to switch leads, I would have an opening. And when he did…
“His horse ran a huge, huge race to be in second.”
Temple, a 23-1 long shot trained by perennial meet-leading trainer Mike Maker, went to the early lead under Geroux and stayed there through the first turn, followed most closely by 10-1 shot Ry's the Guy and Social Paranoia with a half-mile hand-timed in 49.87.
Up the rising slope that is the backstretch and down the dip into the turn, Temple continued to show the way with Ry's the Guy still pressing him and Social Paranoia and Bad Boy contending for third position.
Heading for home after a mile in 1:37.67, Temple kept running hard, looking like he might hold on for the upset, but Social Paranoia wasn't done yet. He took command just inside the furlong marker and, in a gritty effort, bested Ry's the Guy by a half-length after that one got by Temple by three-quarters of a length in the final strides.
“I had a great trip, perfect trip, ran hard,” Landeros said. “First time going long like this might have gotten to him a little bit late. I think we're on the right track. This one (Social Paranoia) has had a little experience going those longer distances than me. Might have been the difference today. But I'm pretty excited.”
Bundibunan was a nose back in fourth, followed across the finish line by Journeyman, Kid Lemuel, Armistice Day, Limonite, Channel Island and Bad Boy.
Social Paranoia won for the second time in 11 starts. He has four seconds and four thirds. With the $353,400 winner's share, Social Paranoia upped his career earnings to $780,100.
“Great job by Todd and his team,” Ortiz said. “The horse was ready. I was just a passenger out there. I tried to give him the best trip I can, and that's what I did.”
Assistant trainer Amelia Green said she had a good feeling after Social Paranoia galloped over Kentucky Downs' undulating, kidney-shaped 1 5/16-mile course.
“He's only actually been out of the placings once, when he was fourth” in the Saratoga Derby in his last start, Green said. “But he trained over it the other day and he loved it. He had his ears pricked. So I said to Jose when he got on him, 'He loved this track when he galloped over it, so I don't think you'll have any problems.'
“I remember when he first came in. He was very heavy as a 2-year-old, and I think it just took him a while to get fit. But he's definitely doing good now.”
Asked if he has any 2-year-olds he thinks will work for the 2020 Dueling Grounds Derby, “Man, I hope so. I'm going for the three-peat,” Pletcher said cheerfully. “I'll find something.”
In 2017 trainer Kenny McPeek brought Daddys Lil Darling to Kentucky Downs for the Dueling Grounds Oaks, won the race, and used it as a steppingstone to late-season success with another victory the Grade 1 American Oaks at Santa Anita.
Now two years later, he is following a similar strategy from that playbook. Sunday at Kentucky Downs, another McPeek-trained 3-year-old filly, Princesa Carolina, took the $348,250 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks by 1 1/2 lengths over Wildlife, leaving her prepared for a chance at graded-stakes opportunities over the rest of the year.
If her time is an indication, she could be poised to land other prizes. Her clocking, 1 5/16 miles in 2:08.85, shattered the stakes record of 2:10.97 set by Daddys Lil Darling.
McPeek already has a future spot in mind: Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane's End at Keeneland Oct. 12, a race requiring an invitation.
“We felt like this distance would do her good, too, the extra ground,” McPeek said. “She's got a big long hip on her, she'll run all day. We've kind of been waiting for this race to some extent all summer and into the fall here. But a great run. We were a little frustrated: stakes-placed Tapit filly or stakes-winning Tapit filly out of that family. Hopefully we can come back in the QEII.
“She's had a good season, and hopefully she's got another good one in her.”
Typical of her style, Princesa Carolina settled off the pace in the Dueling Grounds Oaks under Jose Ortiz, though she was farther behind than usual, sitting eighth, seven lengths off the pace as Indigo Gin and Pep rocketed out to the lead with a half-mile split in 49.64 seconds.
After going down the dip into the far turn over the undulating course at Kentucky Downs, Indigo Gin still led with a mile in 1:38, but Princesa Carolina and the much of the field began to close the gap. Soon after, Ortiz was forced to go outside with his mount when no racing room materialized in front of her.
“I took her back and went wide, but I had a lot of horse to be honest,” he said. “She's a really nice filly.”
She proved it down the stretch, making the lead with an eighth of a mile remaining and pulling away from a strong-finishing rival in Wildlife.
Wildlife's jockey, Rafael Bejarano, felt his filly had a chance in early stretch but she was turned aside by Princesa Carolina. “The winner was much the best, took off again,” he said.
High Regard finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Wildlife, giving trainer Vicki Oliver the second- and third-place finishers in the race. Indigo Gin, Lightscameraaction, Red Rounder, Repatriated Gem, Belle Laura, and Pep rounded out the nine-horse field.
Princesa Carolina, a 3-year-old daughter of Tapit owned and bred by Three Chimneys Farm, now has three wins from 11 starts with three seconds and a third. Her bankroll expanded by $208,320 with the winner's share of the Dueling Grounds Oaks to swell to $403,619. She paid $3.60 to win as the prohibitive favorite.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.