February 20, 2024

Verifying holds by nose in Indiana Derby; Defining Purpose best in Oaks

Verifying (inside) denies Raise Cain in Indiana Derby (Coady Photography)

On Horseshoe Indianapolis’ biggest day, Verifying earned his first stakes win in the Indiana Derby (G3), and Defining Purpose added the Indiana Oaks (G3) to her ledger on Saturday.

It didn’t come easy, but Verifying snapped a six-race losing streak in stakes races after withstanding the late bid of Raise Cain by a nose in the in the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby. Off as the 3-5 favorite with Marcelino Pedroza Jr., the Brad Cox-trained son of Justify stopped the teletimer in 1:43.15.

A neck runner-up in the Blue Grass (G1) three starts previously, Verifying was exiting a close second to Disarm in the June 11 Matt Winn (G3) over a sloppy track at Ellis Park. The well-bred chestnut pressed the pace to the far turn, advancing to take a clear lead into the stretch, and held late to improve his overall record to 9-3-3-0.

A $775,000 yearling purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September sale, Verifying is out of the Grade 3-winning Repent mare Diva Delite, making him a half-brother to 2019 champion older female Midnight Bisou. He won his career debut on the Travers undercard at Saratoga last summer and finished second in the Champagne (G1) before an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His other career win came in a mid-January Oaklawn allowance to open his three-year-old season.

Grade 3 winner Raise Cain closed well from off the pace to just miss at 5-1. It was nearly two lengths back to Cagliostro in third. Transect, Georgie W, Onthestage, and Hayes Strike rounded out the order.

One race prior to the Indiana Derby, Ashland (G1) winner Defining Purpose rebounded from a seventh in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), driving to a 1 1/4-length decision in the Indiana Oaks. The Kenny McPeek-trained gray filly tracked the pace in second to the far turn, surging to a clear lead by upper stretch, and held 4-5 favorite Taxed safe late.

Brian Hernandez Jr. was up for Yoshida Katsuma’s Northern Farm on the three-time stakes winner, and Defining Purpose finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.83. She was off as 2.20-1 second choice among seven three-year-old fillies.

Racing exclusively at two-turn distances, Defining Purposes has bankrolled $673,788 from a 9-4-0-1 record. She won the second time out at Churchill Downs last November, and after an unplaced effort in the Golden Rod (G2), the sophomore concluded her juvenile season with a convincing win in the New Year’s End S. at Oaklawn Park.

Defining Purpose caught wet tracks she didn’t appreciate in the next two starts, finishing third in the Martha Washington and sixth in the Honeybee (G3), but entered the Kentucky Oaks picture with a frontrunning upset in the Ashland at Keeneland. It marked her first attempt at a 1 1/8-mile distance, and Defining Purpose appeared to relish the cutback in distance Saturday.

Taxed, a rallying 3 3/4-length winner of the 1 1/8-mile Black Eyed-Susan (G2) in her previous outing, left herself too much to do from off the pace after rating in seventh through the opening three-quarters of a mile, rallying past foes in the stretch to be a non-threatening second. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to third-placer Lily Poo, who was followed by Merlazza, Flamand, Cloak of Mercy, and pacesetter Sandra D.

Bred in Kentucky by Colette Marie VanMatre, Defining Purpose is the first foal to race from the multiple Indiana-bred stakes winner Defining Hope, a daughter of Strong Hope.

Saturday’s stakes-packed card at Horseshoe Indianapolis included a pair of $100,000 turf stakes of interest.

In the Jonathon B. Schuster Memorial, Me and Mr. C rallied to catch pacesetter Underdressed by a nose on the wire. The six-year-old gelding notched his fourth stakes victory, including a pair of open tallies, and Me and Mr. C left the starting gate at 9.80-1 odds following a victory in the restricted Soldier’s Dancer S. on Gulfstream’s Tapeta.

Gerardo Corrales was up for Mike Maker on the midpack stalker, and Me and Mr. C stepped 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.39 on the good turf. Grade 2 winner Verstappen, the 2-1 favorite in the 10-horse field, wound up third from off the pace.

Justify My Love closed through a small opening along the rail in the midstretch of the Indiana General Assembly Distaff H., getting up to win by a half-length over 5-2 third choice Lovely Princess. A Group 2 winner in Argentina, the six-year-old mare pocketed her first North American stakes win in the seventh appearance stateside for Paulo Lobo.

By Agnes Gold, the Brazilian-bred gray was off at 12-1 with Joseph Ramos after opening 2023 with a pair of unplaced efforts and third in a Churchill Downs allowance in late May, and Justify My Love completed 8 1/2 grassy furlongs in 1:43.91. Henrietta Topham, the 5-2 second choice, wound up third, and 2.40-1 favorite Juncture was fifth.