Chad Brown maintained his superb form with turf horses when landing the exacta in the G1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland on Saturday, with barnmates Regal Glory and Shantisara dominating the main event on an intriguing weekend at the Kentucky track. Elsewhere, Tawny Port nailed down his place in the Kentucky Derby when a powerful winner of the final prep, the G3 Lexington Stakes 2022, while the previous day’s highlight, the G1 Maker’s Mark Mile, produced a slightly unexpected result when Shirl’s Speight got up in the last stride to make his breakthrough at the highest level.
Glory for Brown with one-two
Jenny Wiley Stakes – Grade 1
Everyone was confident that the Jenny Wiley, the centrepiece of the weekend’s action at Keeneland, was heading Chad Brown’s way as the New York native had the two overwhelming favourites. It was more a case of which way the exacta would turn, and it went the way the pools suggested when slight favourite Regal Glory outran her barnmate Shantisara to post a game success.
The six-year-old mare is in the form of her life and was even-money favourite to stretch her winning streak to three. She stalked Navratilova through some boilerplate early fractions before assuming command with three-sixteenths to run, and then held off the determined challenge of 6-5 chance Shantisara to get the job done by a length in a time a tick under 1:41. The two drew clear; there were six and three-quarter lengths back to third-placed Lady Speightspeare, who had raced last of the six runners until rallying from mid-stretch.
“She’s very versatile, that’s the best thing about her,” said winning jockey Jose Ortiz. “I can sit, I can go to the lead, I can do whatever, and nothing bothers her. I just let her be her. I put my hands down and let her run and just let her be happy. And she’s a very nice mare.”
She certainly is. With this success Regal Glory was taking her record to 11-for-18 lifetime, and doubling her G1 haul after her victory in the Matriarch at Del Mar in December. Sandwiched in between was victory in the G3 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Invitational at Gulfstream Park, and she has now won six of her last eight starts.
There was a strong possibility that, having closed out 2021 with her first G1 score, Regal Glory would be retired to broodmare duties and a date with sire Into Mischief, but owner Peter Brant was keen to persevere and he has been rewarded with almost $600,000 in purses and a mare who can now claim to be the best around at a mile on turf.
“It was Mr Brant’s call to keep her in training this year,” said Brown. “I probably would have bred her, but he said ‘No, she’s in good form and I want to see her run another year. I have a feeling this is her year’, and so far he’s right. She’s extremely competitive, she certainly knows where the wire is.”
This was a record fifth success in the Jenny Wiley for Brown, all since 2015. He will now point Regal Glory to the $500,000 G1 Just A Game at Belmont Park on June 11, in which she ran fourth last year, with the long-term plan a return to Keeneland in the fall for the Breeders’ Cup Mile against males. Shantisara is more likely to move up in distance, as she was a five-length winner of the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over a mile-eighth on her previous start.
Port claims his Derby spot
Lexington Stakes – Grade 3
Following the defection on Saturday of Slow Down Andy from the Kentucky Derby with a fever, the Lexington opened up as a route to Churchill Downs for several horses but none could take advantage, as Tawny Port cemented his position in the top 20 in the RTKD standings with the 20 points on offer to the winner.
The question before the gates opened was whether Tawny Port could be as effective on dirt as he has been on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, and the answer came in the affirmative as the 5-1 second-choice rallied strongly to score by a length from Major General, stopping the clock in 1:45 and one-fifth, with the favourite In Due Time nearest at the finish in third, a length and a half back. Ethereal Road, coming back after just a week’s rest, was a never-dangerous fourth.
Tawny Port had been kept well away from the steady fractions set by Major General, but Florent Geroux asked him to close around the turn and he did so willingly under a drive. Strava led briefly at the top of the lane but quickly faded and Major General regained the lead, before Tawny Port ran him down inside the last sixteenth to win with a little in hand.
“There was a bit of a question mark with how well he would handle the dirt, but he was pretty powerful today,” said trainer Brad Cox. “I think he’s a more polished horse mentally and physically, more mature than he was in February, so I knew he was going the right way.”
Geroux echoed that opinion. “He was very strong all the way to the end,” said the jockey. “It looks like the Derby distance should be no problem.”
Tawny Port had previously gone a mile-eighth when runner-up in the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, and when fifth in the G2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, a race that has proved arguably the best of all the Derby preps with Epicenter, Smile Happy and Zandon filling out the board. The son of Pioneerof The Nile will give Cox three chances at Churchill Downs behind his better-fancied barnmates Cyberknife (G1 Arkansas Derby) and Zozos (runner-up G2 Louisiana Derby).
The three horses immediately behind Tawny Port on Saturday do not have sufficient RTKD points to make the Derby top 20, and will have to wait for any further withdrawals. Should the reported doubts over Early Voting and Morello knock one or both out of contention, then Pioneer Of Medina, In Due Time and Ethereal Road are in line, in that order, to move up.
Speight gets it right
Maker’s Mark Mile – Grade 1
In a competitive field deep with G1 winners and G1-placed horses, the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland on Friday was fought out by two horses who hadn’t previously shown they belonged at this level, but certainly do now.
In a breathless, blanket finish to the Good Friday feature – around three lengths covered the entire field – Shirl’s Speight came running fast and late, passing six horses in the stretch to grab the favourite Masen on the line and win by a nose, with the second-choice, the incredibly consistent Smooth Like Strait, a neck back in third after leading for a long way. The time was a tick under 1:36.
The pace hadn’t been strong, Smooth Like Strait twelving his way around the circuit with Masen at his heels and Shirl’s Speight further back with just one horse behind him. With those fractions it was always going to turn into a sprint finish and when Masen hit the front inside the final furlong he looked to have done enough, but Shirl’s Speight was closing relentlessly down the centre of the track and surged in the last six strides to sandbag Masen when the camera clicked.
“Man, I was impressed with the way he ran,” said winning jockey Luis Saez. “He gave me an amazing finish. I had a feeling we got there, but when it’s that close it’s hard to be confident.”
At one time Shirl’s Speight was regarded as a fringe Kentucky Derby candidate, but things happen, or they don’t happen, and the five-year-old had slipped out of the public eye until enjoying a form of renaissance this year, winning twice at Tampa Bay Downs including the G3 Tampa Bay over a mile-sixteenth in February.
Such was the strength of the Maker’s Mark Mile field, however, that he was dismissed at 50-1 on the morning-line – prompting veteran trainer Roger Attfield to wonder whether he’d made a mistake in placing his horse. Three scratchings reduced both the field and his mutuel odds, but Shirl’s Speight was still 16-1 at the gate before a late plunge saw him returned as the 9-1 sixth-choice of eight. He’s now five-for-nine lifetime and in this mood can continue to make up for lost time.
“He lost his way last year, he had some problems and we put him away,” said Attfield. “He’s back now. He really took off at the top of the stretch and got a great ride from Luis.”
The runner-up Masen was having his first start Stateside after six races in his native Ireland. Like the winner, he had hitherto come up short in G1 company, but on the evidence of this performance has a big future on turf.
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