An unlucky trip arguably cost Like the King victory in the Feb. 26 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park; the chestnut colt got squeezed between rivals down the stretch and settled for second place. A cleaner journey in Saturday’s $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) produced a much different outcome as Like the King drew clear late to post a comfortable victory.
Conditioned by Turfway’s leading trainer Wesley Ward, Like the King showed a new dimension in his graded stakes debut. A pacesetting/tracking type in his first five starts, the son of Palace Malice employed more relaxed tactics in the Jeff Ruby, casually dropping as far back as eighth place while longshot Moonlite Strike carved out quick fractions of :22.93, :46.81, and 1:11.65 over the synthetic Tapeta track.
Rounding the final turn, Like the King unleashed a sweeping five-wide rally under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, reaching contention at the top of the stretch. After exchanging bumps with fellow late runner Hard Rye Guy, Like the King settled down for the drive, wore down the pace-tracking Grade 1 winner Gretzky the Great, and held off a furious charge from Sainthood to prevail by one length.
Like the King completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:50.22 to earn 100 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Sainthood (40 points), Hockey Dad (20 points), and Hard Rye Guy (10 points) likewise picked up Derby qualification points for their top-four finishes, while Gretzky the Great, Moonlite Strike, Dyn O mite, Awesome Gerry, King’s Ovation, Smiley Sobotka, and Tarantino trailed the field.
Bred in Kentucky by Horsehoe Racing, Like the King is a son of Belmont (G1) winner Palace Malice out of the Corinthian mare Like a Queen. Sold for $170,000 as a yearling, Like the King campaigns in the colors of M Racing Group and could be bound for the Kentucky Derby thanks to his breakthrough score at Turfway.
Earlier in the afternoon, Adventuring took an adventurous route to win the $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks, earning 50 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Racing wide every step of the way under jockey Florent Geroux, Adventuring rallied boldly from behind fast fractions of :23.14 and :46.61 to beat front-running Spritz by two confident lengths.
Candance O and Oliviaofthedesert likewise closed from far back to complete the superfecta, followed by Wait for Nairobi, Forever Boss, Roll Up Mo Money, Into Vanishing, Speeding, and California Lily. The final time for the one-mile event was 1:37.31.
A stoutly bred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, Adventuring was produced by the Hard Spun mare Questing, the champion three-year-old filly of 2012. A Godolphin homebred trained by Brad Cox, Adventuring arrived at Turfway off a blowout maiden win over the main track at Fair Grounds, so returning to dirt for the Kentucky Oaks shouldn’t be an issue for the rapidly improving filly.
Saturday marked closing day of the Turfway Park winter meet. Racing in Kentucky now shifts to Keeneland for the April 2-23 spring meet, followed by the opening of Churchill Downs on April 24.