Photo: Micheline wears down a gallant Harvey's Lil Goil to win the Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks.
Godolphin’s Micheline, sent off at 10-1, ran down favored Harvey's Lil Goil in the final strides to win the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks by a neck.
Micheline has been a labor of love for Michael Stidham and his crew at Fair Hill. The filly apparently is claustrophobic and will tear down a barn — this is not too much of an exaggeration, her peeps say — before being confined in a stall. So they keep her in an open-air, covered outdoor stall at Fair Hill, and when she hits the road a portable stall is in tow.
Micheline had won stakes before, Gulfstream Park’s $75,000 Honey Ryder and Monmouth Park’s $100,000 Sorority at age 2, but the $500,000 stakes triumph put her in a new category.
“It’s been a journey with her, and it’s been well worth it,” Stidham said by phone. “When she came to us, we were told that you could not put her in a barn because she wouldn’t just walk the stall, she’d run the stall. We were told that she had to be turned out after she trained. She couldn’t be put in the barn. So we had to figure out a way to facilitate her. We had an outdoor stall built for her at Fair Hill. She had a roof over her, but it was an outdoor stall. She’d have a pony next to her to keep her company. Now, any time we’ve taken her anywhere, we have a portable stall with a canvas roof over it and she lives outside in a portable stall. She’s OK in the van, but you can’t put her inside a barn.”
Joel Rosario bided his time on Micheline in the Dueling Grounds Derby while Lucky Polly, Stand Tall and Harvey's Lil Goil contended through tepid early fractions of :25.07 seconds for the first quarter-mile, :49.34 for the half and six furlongs in 1:13.56. At that point, Micheline was eighth of 11 runners, 4 3/4 lengths off the pace but launching a bid.
Harvey's Lil Goil seized command in the latter part of the sweeping far turn and led by two lengths at the furlong marker, only grudgingly giving up the lead in the last couple of jumps as Micheline came flying, covering 1 5/16 miles in 2:06.41.That’s the fastest time recorded at the distance in track history. But Kentucky Downs, which previously has always been hand-timed, this year is testing Equibase’s new Gmax tracking and timing system, which uses GPS technology and has starting points for timing that vary from those utilized in the past. Because it’s not an accurate comparison, Kentucky Downs is not at this time referencing track records, either new or old.
Luck Money was another length back in third. Stunning Sky, the second betting choice, was fourth, beaten 2 1/4 lengths.
“My filly is a big horse,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario, who finished a good fourth in Saratoga’s Grade 3 Lake George in Micheline’s prior start. “I thought she’d like the wide-open (course). That horse kind of got away from me. I thought I was never going to catch her. But she kept trying. I was riding, and she kept trying. Finally the last part of it, I got close to the horse and she got up and ran really well.”
Micheline paid $22 to win as the fourth choice in the field of eleven 3-year-old fillies. Following the top four across the finish line were Stand Tall, Ask Bailey, How Ironic, Sursum Corda, Carpe Vinum, Lucky Polly and Embossed. Island Hideaway (GB) was scratched along with the also-eligibles Redemption Day, Blame Debbie and Envoutante.
The daughter of the Darley America stallion Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness and Travers winner and 3-year-old champion, now is 4-1-1 in 11 starts, earning $445,978 with the $291,400 first-place money.
“She ran against some pretty good fillies, with Mott’s filly,” Stidham said. “I thought it was a pretty solid field, for sure. We always thought the added distance was going to be what she wanted, we just hadn’t had the opportunity until to try her — and she loved every bit of it.
"She’s one of the prettiest gallopers I’ve ever been around. She floats over the ground in her gallop. She’s got this big, huge pretty stride. She’s actually mellowed a little bit as a 3-year-old. She really doesn’t do anything crazy. But if you put her in a barn she will get crazy. I think she’s just claustrophobic. They are people that way; I guess horses get that way.”
Stidham said Keeneland’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup will “absolutely” be under consideration.
Micheline is out of the 16-year-old mare Panty Raid, who as a racehorse won Pimlico’s Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on dirt, Hollywood Park’s Grade 1 American Oaks on turf and Keeneland’s Grade 1 Spinster on a synthetic surface, earning more than $1 million before selling for $2.5 million at auction.
“This is her first really good foal,” Stidham said. “That’s the cool part.”
The stakes was delayed a half-hour after the power failed in the TV truck and its back-up supply system also failed. Kentucky Downs quickly pulled over one of its generators, which restored the power, track management said.
Micheline was cool as a cucumber in the paddock and throughout the delay.
“But she’s outside, so it doesn’t matter,” said T.J. Stuckey, Stidham’s assistant trainer at Kentucky Downs. “She’s not locked up in a stall. She’s walking around and she’s moving.
“The race set up perfect for her. She settled pretty good behind those horses. They gave her good leeway, and she followed and finished well. I take my hat off to the jockey. He did a heck of a job with her.”
Betting on the 10-race card totaled $8,983,981, a record for a week day and the third-highest all time. That number is topped only by a pair of Saturdays for Kentucky Downs' showcase five-stakes Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Day, on which $11,321,492 was bet last year and $10,039,008 in 2018.