The only time five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm won the Kentucky Jockey Club with Super Saver, they won the Kentucky Derby the following spring. They hope to duplicate that feat again May 5 after their colt Gemologist wore down favorite 8-5 favorite Ever So Lucky in deep stretch to win the 85th running of the $178,200 Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) for 2-year-olds by 1 ¾ lengths on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Javier Castellano, Gemologist broke alertly and sat behind the pacesetter Ever So Lucky and 43-1 outsider Seve as the former led the field of 11 through fractions of :23.98, :47.49 and 1:12.62. On the far turn, Castellano dropped his hands and Gemologist raced three-wide to draw even with Ever So Lucky at the head of the long Churchill Downs stretch. The two matched strides to the sixteenth pole before Gemologist inched clear late for the victory in 1:44.46 for 1 1/16 miles over a “fast” track.
Timely Tally rallied late from the back of the pack to finish another neck back in third, a half-length in front of Optimizer. Atigun, Africanist, Cyber Secret, Saint Honore, Seve, Fine and Mr. Prankster completed the order of finish.
"He ran well,” Pletcher said. “He overcame an outside post, got a good trip and dug in when it counted.”
Gemologist, a Kentucky-bred son of 2001 Horse of the Year Tiznow out of the Mr. Prospector mare Crystal Shard, grabbed the $103,855 first prize and jumped his career earnings to $145,855. The bay colt is unbeaten in three starts. He broke his maiden by five lengths on Polytrack at Turfway Park in September and won a first-level allowance/optional claiming event at Churchill Downs on Oct. 30 by two lengths.
“I think it certainly helped to have a race over the track and to have that two-turn experience around there,” Pletcher said. “It always helps when you have some confidence that they’ve handled the surface already.”
Sent to post as the 3-1 second betting choice, Gemologist returned $8.60, $4 and $3.60. Ever So Lucky, piloted by Julien Leparoux, paid $3.60 and $3. Timely Tally, with Calvin Borel aboard, returned $4.20.
Five Kentucky Jockey Club winners won the Kentucky Derby the following spring: Reigh Count (1928), Clyde Van Dusen (1929), Twenty Grand (1931) Cannonade (1974) and Super Saver (2010). The 138th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands will be run in 23 weeks on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
“It’s always exciting when you have a good two-year-old turning three,” Pletcher said. “It kind of gives you something to look forward to when you head south for the winter. We’re always hoping to be back at Churchill in the spring.
“We’ll give him a little bit of a break off that and I’ll get with (WinStar President/CEO and Racing Manager) Elliott (Walden) and we’ll come up with a game plan. I’d say we’d try to follow a similar path (to Super Saver), hopefully two starts before the big race if things go well.”
Closing day of the 21-day Fall Meet is Sunday and Churchill Downs will offer free general admission to all patrons and a 2012 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar to the first 5,000 in attendance. The first of 11 races is 12:40 p.m. EST.
The race to be crowned leading trainer is tight. Mike Maker has a 15-14 lead over Steve Asmussen. Leparoux is five wins clear of Corey Lanerie, 32-27, for leading rider honors. Ken and Sarah Ramsey will be leading owners with a 12-5 lead over Billy, Donna and Justin Hays heading into closing day.
KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB QUOTES
Todd Pletcher (by telephone from New York), trainer of Gemologist (winner): “He ran well. He overcame an outside post, got a good trip and dug in when it counted.”
Q: Do you feel that two-turn race at Churchill Downs was an advantage? “I think it certainly helped to have a race over the track and to have that two-turn experience around there. It always helps when you have some confidence that they’ve handled the surface already.”
Q: Did Gemologist identify himself early as one that might be special? “He came to us during the Saratoga meet and each one of his works was progressively better. For a big horse that’s bred to go longer, he showed some natural speed. He’s just one of those horses that every time you breezed him he did everything right and just kind of kept getting better and better.”
Q: The last time you won this race with Super Saver in 2009 it worked out well for you the following spring in the Derby. Will you take a similar path in hopes of getting back to the Derby with Gemologist?
“We’ll give him a little bit of a break off that and I’ll get with Elliott (WinStar President/CEO and Racing Manager Elliott Walden) and we’ll come up with a game plan. I’d say we’d try to follow a similar path, hopefully two starts before the big race if things go well.”
Q: You’ve won so many great races and trained so many nice horses. But when you have one like this that seems to have so much potential for next year, is it anything extra for you to win a race like this with a horse like this? “It’s always exciting when you have a good two-year-old turning three. It kind of gives you something to look forward to when you head south for the winter. We’re always hoping to be back at Churchill in the spring.”
Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm LLC, owner of Gemologist (winner): “What I saw in there was a horse get a lot of learning experience and still win a race. He had a little problem in the starting gate, but he broke well and relaxed. He went wide, but still won and looked like a very nice horse coming down the lane.”
Q. Have you already starting thinking of next year’s Kentucky Derby? “Everyone’s been talking about the Derby and it’s very exciting to get the ‘Derby fever.’ This race is a great stepping stone for us. I’ll leave everything else up to Elliot (Walden) and the trainer. But we’re very excited.”
Elliot Walden, President/CEO and Racing Manager of WinStar Farm LLC, owner of Gemologist (winner): “He (Gemologist) beat a very good field and a very good horse in the Indian Charlie colt (Ever So Lucky). He’ll get a little bit of a breather and then we’ll regroup and see where we go. I don’t know if he’ll come back to WinStar Farm (for the winter). We’ll have to figure that out.”
Mike McCarthy, assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher, trainer of Gemologist (winner): “The horse ran well. He ran like he trained. The race kind of unfolded like we thought it would. We thought (jockey) Julien (Leparoux)’s horse (Ever So Lucky) would go ahead and go (to the lead) coming off a short rest. It was a very professional effort from him (Gemologist) today.”
Javier Castellano, jockey on Gemologist (winner): “We had a beautiful trip. It was a dream trip. He’s a really nice horse. Today he was very professional. He sat behind the leaders and targeted the speed. He responded when I asked him. He did it the right way today. I’m very lucky to ride nice horses like him.”
Q. What happened in the gate before the race? “I think he just got a little anxious and he was ready to go. He reared up and hit the gate with his legs, but thank God he didn’t hit his head. He was very lucky.”
Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of Ever So Happy (runner-up): “We’re very happy. He ran very well. He’s still just a little bit green. He put up a good fight when that horse came to him and we were quite proud of him.”
Q: He’s shown a lot in a short time … “Exactly. The other horse has had two races, we’ve had one. I’m not sure how much difference that makes, but probably some I would think.”
Q: So you’re thinking about next spring and possibly the Kentucky Derby with this horse? “We’ll let him tell us. It would be fun to do if he looks like he wants to go that way. We’ll take him home and check him out and see.”
Julien Leparoux, jockey of Ever So Lucky (runner-up): “He ran big. He had that win going 6 ½ (furlongs) and it’s not easy to just come and run as good as he did. He’s a nice horse and we’re looking forward to next year with that one.”
Ian Wilkes, trainer of Timely Tally (third): Q: Calvin Borel said he was stopped on the far turn, but was thrilled with the way Timely Tally finished. Your thoughts? “That’s racing. We didn’t have the racing luck there. He was still last at the quarter pole and then he circles them at the quarter pole and gets beat by two lengths. I wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone going forward off this race. I just feel my horse is getting better. He’s improving with racing. And you know he likes the track here, so that’s a good sign.”
Q: Did you see the traffic problems he encountered on the far turn? “It was just that a hole never opened up. You know how Calvin (jockey Calvin Borel) loves the fence, but it just never opened up. If he had moved him 50 or 100 yards earlier, we’re the winner. But that’s hindsight. That’s part of the game. But otherwise, I was so happy. That was his first stakes race and the horse is just getting better and better. I’ve got to congratulate WinStar Farm. Their horse ran his race and he was the winner, but I do think my horse is improving.”