After a quiet first four days of the Kentucky Downs meet, two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill waited until closing day and the meet's final stakes race, to announce his stable's presence. And did he ever.
O'Neill-trained runners Legends of War and Stubbins finished one-two in Thursday's Grade 3, $500,000 Nevada State Bank Franklin-Simpson Stakes at the Franklin, Ky., racecourse, generating a handsome reward for his stable and those that backed his runners at the mutuel windows. Legends of War paid $49.40 to a $2 win ticket, and a $1 exacta with 10-1 Stubbins delivered a $218 return.
Although Legends of War had utilized off-the-pace tactics in winning his last start, an allowance race at Del Mar, he was actively involved from the start in the Franklin-Simpson. He broke well under Rafael Bejarano, shot to the lead with a quarter-mile in 23.44 seconds and a half-mile 47.37, and left his 11 rivals behind in the stretch on his way to 1 ¾-length victory. He was hand-timed racing 6 ½ furlongs on a firm turf course in 1:16.83.
Stubbins rallied from midpack, pulling two lengths clear of third-place Uncapped while no threat to the winner. The latter edged by a head even-money favorite Archidust, who settled for fourth.
Large payoffs extended beyond the O'Neill pair. With Uncapped overlooked at 85-1, the 50-cent trifecta paid $2,341.35 and the 10-cent superfecta that included the public choice returned $9,570.90.
It was Bejarano's first win of the meet, but he's had plenty of local experience. On September 21, 2004, he almost swept an eight-race card at Kentucky Downs, winning six races and finishing second and third in the other two, beaten only a couple of lengths overall. He won the riding title at Kentucky Downs that year.
“This horse was definitely ready today,” Bejarano said. “He looked pretty sharp in the post parade, like he wanted to run. I knew there were a couple of horses who had more speed than I. But all day speed was holding, so I said, 'I'm going to put him in the race.'”
Legends of War, a 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy, won his fourth race from 13 starts, his first graded stakes, and his first race ever at Kentucky Downs. He raced in Europe last year and debuted in the U. S. at Churchill Downs with a third-place finish in the William Walker Stakes on opening night of the spring meet.
O'Neill, who trained I'll Have Another and Nyquist to Kentucky Derby victories in 2012 and 2016, respectively, believed it is now apparent that Legends of War wants to sprint.
“I probably made an error by stretching him out twice,” he said by phone. “Tried him a mile, get to know him more. He's a one-turn specialist. Put a line through those two races. His previous wins were very solid. Raffy rode him with so much confidence.”
Legends of War now has earnings of $470,740 for owners C T R Stables, Qatar Racing and Steven Keh after snagging $288,300 from the $500,000 purse.
O'Neill said he was also pleased with the effort from runner-up Stubbins.
“I feel bad for Kelly and Jack McShane of McShane Racing,” he said of the colt's owners. “They're great people, there today. He ran a winning race, he ran a dynamite race, and Legends of War had his own way on the front end. Very proud of how Stubbins ran and how (jockey) Joel Rosario rode him.”
Not faring as well over the undulating European-style Kentucky Downs course was Archidust, who lost for the first time in three grass starts.
“He didn't like the track at all,” said his Hall of Fame rider, Javier Castellano. “You can see at the top of the stretch, he bobbled, like four or five times. I tried to hold him together, tried to let him get his rhythm. Every time he got his rhythm and momentum, he stumbled really bad. You can see out of the gate, he stumbled. He didn't like it.”
After the top four finishers came Nitrous, who was last of 12 early, Abyssinian, Lexitonian, The Last Zip, Carotari, The Black Album, Moon Colony and Pole Setter. Casa Creed and Dunph were scratched, along with also-eligible Neverland Rock.
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