Although the first three races on Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Keeneland were merely appetizers for the feature events, racing fans were nevertheless treated to a Breeders’ Cup-worthy performance in the afternoon opener.
The undefeated 3-year-old Nashville was favored at 1-10 to prevail in the $125,000 Perryville S., his stakes debut. A son of champion sprinter Speightstown, Nashville had been pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), but opted for a more conservative route instead.
They say hindsight is 20-20, and it’s fair to wonder if Nashville would have won the Sprint. With Ricardo Santana in the saddle for Steve Asmussen, the bay colt opened up a daylight lead through a quarter in :21.54, widened his advantage to six lengths through a blazing half-mile in :43.87, and ultimately eased across the finish line in the track-record time of 1:07.89 for 6 furlongs.
Longshot Wild Wes rallied up the rail to finish second, but he never got closer than 3 1/2 lengths to the runaway winner, who campaigns for CHC INC. and WinStar Farm. Little Menace, Bango, Fore Left, Cajun Brother, and Relentless Dancer trailed the field.
A decidedly more somber attitude followed the running of the $150,000 Lafayette S., a 7-furlong dash in which Absolutely Aidan suffered a fetlock injury and fell at the top of the stretch. In the ensuing traffic jam, Strike That and Dinar unseated their riders before galloping on to be caught by outriders. All jockeys involved in the incident (Chris Landeros, David Cohen, and Tyler Gaffalione) were cleared by the Keeneland medical team; Absolutely Aidan was vanned off the track and humanely euthanized due to the extent of his injury.
In the meantime, Sleepy Eyes Todd managed to steer clear of the traffic jam, charging from dead last on the turn to rally up the rail and beat True Timber by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:21.77. Pacesetter Edgemont Road held for third place after carving out splits of :22.12, :44.46, and 1:08.94, with Ebben, Engage, Phat Man, Midnight Sands, and Mind Control trailing across the finish line.
Victorious in the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic (G2) two starts back, Sleepy Eyes Todd has developed into a remarkably versatile runner under the care of trainer Miguel Angel Silva, scoring stakes wins over four different distances. Ridden to victory at Keeneland by Joel Rosario, Sleepy Eyes Todd races in the silks of Thumbs Up Racing.
Completing the undercard stakes action was the $125,000 Fort Springs S., a 6-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies. A bump at the start left Merneith racing in seventh place through an opening quarter in :21.91, but the daughter of American Pharoah was resilient around the turn and down the stretch, overcoming a wide journey to rally and defeat Motivated Seller by a neck.
Pacesetter Rising Seas led until deep stretch before giving way to finish third, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Fair Maiden, Wicked Whisper, Ain’t No Elmers, Anna’s Fast, Miss T Too, and Boerne finished well behind the top three.
Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden to victory by Luis Saez, Merneith reached the wire in 1:09.35 to secure the first stakes victory of her career. Owned by HRH Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud, Merneith previously finished third in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) and arrived at Keeneland off a convincing allowance win at Santa Anita.
Nashville, Sleepy Eyes Todd, Merneith… in 2020, they were the supporting players on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. But if their impressive performances on Saturday are any indication, they could develop into the stars of the show in 2021.