By Byron King, for Kentucky Downs
Whether a 2-year-old sprint race is in Europe, or over a European-style course like Kentucky Downs, trainer Wesley Ward and owner Stonestreet Farm mean business.
The trainer-owner combination, who teamed a few years ago with multiple overseas Group 1 winner and European juvenile champion Lady Aurelia, struck again Saturday at Kentucky Downs when Cambria scored a gutty head victory over Chimney Rock in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint. The win gave Ward back-to-back winners in the race with fillies beating the boys, following Moonlight Romance’s triumph last year for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
It did not come easily, nor without drama. The finish was tight, and so, too, was the early running. Cambria was steadied into the turn of the 6 ½-furlong race, resulting in her sitting fifth behind pacesetter Johnny Unleashed, and Chimney Rock had trouble shortly in the opening sixteenth of a mile, being checking between horses.
Both horses were free of traffic in the lane, however, and there Cambria proved the stronger of the two, improving her record to three-for-three. Previously she had won two races over a synthetic surface at Presque Isle Downs.
“Today was the first time she actually was challenged,” said winning jockey Tyler Gaffalione. “She showed how much heart she has.”
Meanwhile, the connections of Chimney Rock were left to wonder what could have been, disappointed by traffic that forced jockey Jose Ortiz to check him.
“I got really squeezed right out of the gate and cost me the race for sure,” he said. “They came inside, outside. I was in the sandwich. I was the best today. “
Three lengths behind Chimney Road was Prince of Thieves, who edged How Ironic For the show. Favored Souper Dormy, Silver Prospector, Johnny Unleashed, Axiomo, Alcools, City Front and Scocciatore completed the order of finish in the 11-horse field.
The winner, a 2-year-old daughter of Speightstown also bred by Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Farm, was timed covering 6 ½ furlongs on firm turf in 1:17.40, following splits of 22.91 seconds and 47.13, set by longshot Johnny Unleashed. She paid $18 to win, $8.40 to place, and $5.20 to show.
“Both of her races were very, very good but not great,” Ward said of her victories at Presque Isle. “Her subsequent works, in fact her last work, was an eye-opener. So I texted Barbara after her last work and said, ‘Barbara, we’re going to have a big, big chance.’ She texted me ‘what race?’ I sent her a photo of this race in the condition book. I said, ‘You’re going to be rich after winning this one, Barbara.’ I got a laugh out of her anyway.”
As Ward forecasted, Banke reaped the reward of the $500,000 purse, with Cambria earning $294,500 to increase her bankroll to $331,700.
Ward now plans to bring a fresh horse into the Breeders’ Cup, bypassing a start in between, to prepare for the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, a race in which Moonlight Romance was 12th last year when it was run at Churchill Downs. That start would mean another start against males over a short, five-furlong trip that suits her.
“That’s the first thing I like to ask the riders when they get off, the distance,” Ward said. “Would it be a mile against juvenile fillies on the grass or sprinting? Tyler said, ‘for sure, sprinting.’ I mean if she was able to make one big run from behind and the speed collapses from behind, she’ll be right there. I mean, she’s really really good from behind.”