Alberto Figueiredo stood on the apron at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 11, yelling a singular name at the top of his lungs, waving his arms in urgency before finally finding his trainer and wrapping his limbs around him in a celebratory embrace.
It is scene that has become a regular one during the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, which in itself is cause for a wild jubilation, as the colors of Bonne Chance Farm – of which Figueirdeo is co-owner and CEO – already collected one lucrative stakes win this week. Theirs is a relatively modest operation that only took roots in the United States in 2015. So the fact they are now set to have a Breeders’ Cup starter for a second consecutive year, thanks to Imperador (ARG)’s victory in the $1 million Calumet Turf Cup Stakes (G2) on Saturday, is why Figueiredo wasn’t even trying to act like he had been there before.
“That’s a huge accomplishment for a South American stable with just a couple handful of mares,” Figueiredo said.
After Bonne Chance’s In Love (BRZ) won a division of the TVG Stakes at Kentucky Downs on Wednesday, Imperador provided his connections an even bigger moment when he held off defending race winner and betting favorite Arklow by a neck in the 1 ½-miles Turf Cup to earn his first victory in North America and a fees paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
Trainer Paulo Lobo and Bonne Chance teamed up to go to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland when Ivar (BRZ) won last year’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) to earn a spot in the FanDuel Mile (G1), where he ended up fourth. Though it took Imperador a fistful of tries in America to finally find the form in that made him a Group 1 winner in his Argentina, the son of Treasure Beach (GB) showed he was on the upswing when he posted a runner-up finish in the United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 17.
“I was expecting as huge effort today,” Lobo said. “He ran good at Churchill (second in an allowance race last September), the first time running a mile and a half here in America. He ran very good in New Jersey and he was doing very good for this race. In the Breeders’ Cup we are going to be in deeper waters, but this horse I think is peaking at the right time.”
Lobo pointed out that the undulating nature of the Kentucky Downs course was similar to the tracks in South America. Hence, Imperador looked very much in his comfort zone as he rated off the pace in eighth in the 12-horse field on Saturday.
Epic Bromance and Big Dreaming skirmished for the early lead through fractions of :23.75 and :48.60 but it was Calumet Farm’s Channel Cat in front after a mile in 1:38.60. Channel Cat held a half-length advantage after 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.31, but Imperador, with Joe Talamo up, and Glynn County were quickening well off the rail and surged to the front in the stretch.
“I made the mistake at Churchill (sixth in the Grade 3 Louisville Stakes on May 15) where I asked to put him a little too close to the pace,” Lobo said. “Then we changed a little bit in New Jersey. Today, (Talamo) rode the horse perfectly.”
The last bit of drama for Imperador came when he had to fend off a determined late run from Grade 1 winner Arklow, who encountered his share of trouble when trying to launch his bid. The two-time winner of the Turf Cup moved up into contention entering the stretch, but ran into traffic issues, forcing jockey Florent Geroux to try and him through a hole, only to have to briefly steady in mid-stretch.
“The horse ran great,” Geroux said. “It was just a tough beat, bad luck. I had a great trip. I was saving ground, he was traveling great. I thought I had the horses measured in front of me. I thought I had the speed turning for home, and those horses came back at us quick. I had to take a hold and come around, and it was too late. The winner went all the way around. If I split horses and get through, they’ll tell me it’s a great ride. I didn’t. I got squeezed, and it’s a bad ride. He’s a horse that always tries hard.”
Sent off at 8-1 odds, Imperador covered the distance in 2:25.70 over a course rated firm. Glynn County finished third, 1 ¼-lengths behind Arklow.
Imperador improved his record to four wins from 14 starts with $538,268 and will likely now train up to his expected run at Del Mar in November.
“We have a very good team behind us here with Paulo and all the crew at his barn who did an excellent job to bring those two horses in top condition,” Figuieredo said. “And also, all the people in South America deserve some credit as well to develop those horses into being champions. And they’re proving it here.”