Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, chairman of Qatar Racing Ltd., has assembled an impressive streak of success at Kentucky Downs, and he’s not about to let it end.
For the third year in a row, a horse from his stable came back to the winner’s circle after the Franklin-Simpson Stakes. For this $600,000 fifth running of the Grade 2 race, it was The Lir Jet (IRE) who jetted down the stretch for a 1 3/4-length victory with Tyler Gaffalione.
The last time The Lir Jet was competing in Kentucky, the results weren’t quite as pleasant. Last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Keeneland, he finished seventh. After spending the winter and spring in England, the Irish-bred was gelded and made his return to Kentucky worthwhile under the short tutelage of trainer Brendan Walsh.
“From the first year we won, I told Fergus (Galvin, his racing manager in the U.S.) that we wanted to go again,” said Sheikh Fahad, who made his first trip to Kentucky Downs for Saturday’s stakes. “And this year we figured out that this horse was ideal for this race. And to be honest, credit is due to Michael Bell, who trained the horse in England. I had a chat with him, and he said to me that he thought this horse would suit racing in America, and would suit Kentucky Downs. He said take him to America, and send him to one of your trainers over there.”
After a late-June race at Newmarket, The Lir Jet came into Walsh’s barn, with this 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2 race the target.
“I hadn’t had him a very long time, but he came to me in very good shape, made my job very easy,” Walsh said. “We just took him over when he got off the plane, and here we are.”
Gaffalione kept The Lir Jet within striking distance of the early speed, found a spot for him to get through on the inside, and let the gelding do the work down the long stretch.
“He broke sharp, grabbed a hold of the bit running up the hill,” Gaffalione said. “Even going down the hill he grabbed it a little more. I had to wait a little bit longer. He was taking me the whole way. As soon as a spot opened up, he accelerated and finished the job.”
Gaffalione said Walsh expressed some concern over the brief time to prepare. “He’s a nice horse,” Gaffalione said. “He’s only had him for a couple of weeks, so that was his only concern, but he said he’s got a ton of ability. Brendan does a fabulous job.
“He had a tremendous year last year as a 2-year-old,” he added. “He’s been a little off his form lately, but hopefully we can get him back on track after today.”
Overall, Walsh was satisfied with the 8-1 shot’s performance.
“I thought he was very impressive,” Walsh said. “It looked like he was always in control, got a great ride. It worked out great. Third year in a row for this man. It’s great to have him here. He’s a great supporter of ours, and it’s nice that he could come over and see the unique Kentucky Downs that it is.”
The Lir Jet paid $19.60, $9.80 and $7.20. Easy Time, a 33-1 shot with Adam Beschizza aboard, finished second, paying $23 and $12. It was a head back to 12-1 Fauci, who drew in from the also-eligible list with Ricardo Santana Jr. and paid $8. Fractions for the sprint were :22.18, :45.46, 1:09.11 and 1:15.38.
The 2-1 favorite, Point Me By, never found his way deep in the pack of the 11-horse field, and finished seventh.
“He broke from there and he looked pretty comfortable,” said jockey Luis Saez, “but when we came to the top of the stretch everybody was gone. He was making a little move. I think he’s better with more distance, more comfortable breaking and making one run. This one went too quick.”
Sheikh Fahad was pleased with the results of the challenge he threw to Walsh.
“Brendan (Walsh) has been very lucky for us,” Sheikh Fahad said. “He’s a very good trainer, Brendan, and deserves all the luck he’s been getting. That’s why we chose him. Also Fergus Galvin, our racing manager over here, thought that this race was ideal for him. And to be honest, Tyler (Gaffalione) gave him an unbelievable ride. The one thing I asked Oisin Murphy, who rides him in England, and he said just make sure he’s sitting third-fourth, and that he has something to aim at. He thought he was better than the other field here, and he showed that today. He’s going to be a very fun horse to have in America.”
Sheikh Fahad said he enjoyed his first trip to Kentucky Downs. “It’s an absolutely beautiful track, great racetrack, great course, they’ve taken good care of it, what more could you ask for?”
Qatar Racing doesn’t own all of The Lir Jet, who earned $174,840 with his third win from 11 lifetime starts; a stake was sold to a group called Racehorseclub. “It gave them a horse that takes them to Kentucky Downs, takes them to Royal Ascot, everywhere around the world. They’ve had a Grand National second, a Royal Ascot winner, and now a Kentucky Downs winner.”
In Good Spirits Just in Time to Take Ladies Sprint
Timing is everything in sports and life as In Good Spirits proved again Saturday in her victory in the $600,000 Keeneland Mint Ladies Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs.
Bal Mar Equine’s 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly drew into the race when She’s So Special was scratched Saturday morning, was promptly shipped from Churchill Downs provided Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez with his first victory at the track.
Sent off a 14-1 from the outside post in the field of 12, she finished two lengths in front of Catch a Bid and paid $31.80 to win.
Trainer Al Stall, Jr. said he had made it clear to Kentucky Downs officials that he would have his filly in the gate if a scratch occurred.
“We didn’t learn that we were in the race until 9-something this morning after the vets went around and checked the horses. The 3 horse didn’t pass the vet check,” Stall said. “The stewards did a nice job and called me up. They knew I wanted to run. I had a truck waiting and we when we got the word we loaded up and headed on down. It was worth the trip.”
Venetian Harbor, the even-money favorite, broke slowly, went to the front early under Florent Geroux, but gave up the lead almost as quickly as she seized it and was 10th.
“She couldn’t handle the track,” Geroux said. “She was very wide. No horse. It was a sign that the horse does not appreciate the track.”
In Good Spirits sat a bit back off the pace of 22.33 and :45.88 and finished well to get to the wire in 1:15.35 for 6 1/2 furlongs.
“She scared me a little bit today because she was a little too close,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t want to be that close. She broke so good. I had to wrestle her back a little bit to get her off the horses. Then he settled well. From the quarter pole, I saw (Lagertha) trying to get away a little sooner. I decided to let him go and hopefully I can get him coming down the lane. That’s the way it worked out.”
Velazquez acknowledged the first victory with a nod and a chuckle.
“Anytime you win a race, it’s doesn’t matter where it is,” he said. “A win is a win.”
Once a route runner, In Good Spirits was turned into a sprinter this year. She was second in the G3 Caress in her most recent start, on July 24 at Saratoga.
“We like her around one turn and a stiff 6 ½ was a good thing for her,” Stall said. “She wants to go a little further, 7 or a flat mile around one turn, also. That looks like her little niche once we shortened her up. She’s got a little bit more of a punch than she did going two turns. She’s got some class. She’s a fresh horse. We’re looking forward to her 5-year-old year.”
Bal Mar is the racing stable of Paul Varga, the retired chairman and CEO of Louisville’s Brown-Forman.
“She had been unlucky this year for us,” Varga said. “We had her entered several times this winter and she had been rained off. She really needs to run on firm turf. She had a soft turf up at Keeneland in the spring and then we waited. At Saratoga, she had a really nice second.
“We were really on pins and needles on whether she’d get in here, since she was on the also-eligible list. But we got the call this morning at almost 10 o’clock and she ran her race.”
Varga said that Stall figured out the filly and shortened her up.
“Al had always thought she wanted to do a sustained one-turn, anywhere from six (furlongs) to a mile. So we’ll have to look and see what’s in the books, and try to find where to run her again. Probably a flat one-turn at seven furlongs is her best.”