(Photo: Bridlewood Farm's Osare led all the way in the $300,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks. Reed Palmer Photography)
Jonathan Thomas made his training debut at Kentucky Downs a memorable one on Wednesday, taking the 1 5/16-mile, $300,000 Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks with front-running Osare easily holding off the late-running Princess Warrior by 2 3/4 lengths. The triumph gave Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz his third win on the card to pull him into what became a three-way tie for the lead of the jockey standings with defending meet titlist Julien Leparoux and Tyler Gaffalione (who won the last race upon a disqualification) at six wins each heading into Thursday’s closing card.
The leader at each call of the race, Osare and Jose Ortiz, who won for the third time on the day, were in front by about a length throughout the sweeping far turn and extended their advantage in the stretch over hard-running second finisher Princess Warrior, trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr.
“She was the right horse to do it,” Ortiz said of going wire to wire. “The trainer told me that ‘she doesn’t have a big turn of foot, so you have to be close and at the three-eighths pole be looking for it. Don’t be waiting for the quarter pole to have that kick.’ To be on the lead there, going as easy as I was, I thought it was perfect. I saw the 3 horse (Pamina) was right next to me, and I said, ‘I’ve got to take it. Because if not I’m going to have the favorite in front of me and I’m going to be behind him.’ I just wanted to take it. I just took the lead and kept going from there.”
Bet down to 7-2 from an 8-1 morning line, Osare — which means to dare in Italian — returned her $2 backers $9.80 to win, $5.80 to place and $4.00 to show. The winning time was 2:15.06 over turf rated good.
“All we wanted was to not leave her too much to do with the ground being a little tacky,” Thomas said. “Jose gave her a beautiful ride. It was a very positive forward ride. I thought he got her to relax really nicely down the backside and he saved a lot of ground. It was great, the kind of ride you expect from Jose.
“She’s certainly a very ratable horse. She’s very smart. If she needed to be in behind, that’s fine. But I think her strength is stamina, so it’s important to let her get in a rhythm and take it to them a little bit, and if she’s good enough she’ll get it done.”
Thomas, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher, added to a big year highlighted so far with Catholic Boy's wins of the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on turf and Grade 1 Travers Stakes on dirt. In 2018, Thomas has 23 wins from 85 starters, which amounts to an astonishing 27 percent win rate, with a 12 seconds, 12 thirds and purse earnings of $2,440,498.
“It’s been a real dream year,” said Thomas, a former steeplechase rider. “We’ve been supported by some great people and some really nice horses. We can’t do it without the horses we have. I’m just a small spoke on a big wheel.”
Osare added a nice performance to her already rich pedigree. She's a half-sister to Arrogate, the all-time leader in purses with $17,422,600. Arrogate ranked first by earnings in both 2016 and 2017 and won the Breeders' Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes and Dubai World Cup in successive starts.
“The expectations are a little bit higher when your brother is Arrogate,” Thomas said. “But we let her kind of come into her own and develop. She was a filly with a big frame, we gave her time to strengthen up, and these longer races seem to be her forte. So we were waiting for kind of a spot like this, being able to keep her in her own age group going a route of ground.”
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms, Osare is out of the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler, the dam of Arrogate, and was sired by Medaglia d'Oro. Clearsky also bred Arrogate.
Winning owner John C. Malone and his Bridlewood Farm's regally-bred 3-year-old filly now has two wins from four starts and $229,080 in earnings after adding the $172,980 winner's share of the Dueling Grounds Oaks to her bankroll in her stakes debut.
“She’s a home horse,” said Thomas, who trains at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala. “Bridlewood has been my biggest supporter and to have a stakes win for them is really important.”
In fact, training at Bridlewood could have made Osare feel right at home at Kentucky Downs.
“She’s used to a little different terrain,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a couple of different ways we like to train horses and one of them is on an uphill. So she would have spent a lot of time going up a hill and kind of knowing where her feet are. I thought she traveled lovely up it, kind of like she does at home.”
Osare and favored Pamina dueled down the backstretch before Osare slipped ahead going down the dip in the big turn with initial fractions going in a moderate 25.36 seconds for the first quarter-mile, a half in 51.20 and six furlongs in 1:16.45. Princess Warrior was eighth, but only 2 3/4 lengths off the pace, after the first half-mile and steadily advanced around the bend and down the lane under Hernandez.
“She ran well,” Hernandez said. “We had a good trip, we were just second-best today. Just couldn’t run down the winner. We were right behind her turning for home, and we just couldn’t run by the last horse. She’s getting better and better each race. She’s on the grass; she’s definitely improving. That was a big effort today.”
Sippin Kitten finished third at 21-1 odds for meet-leading trainer Mike Maker, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, after closing from an early 10th-place position. Malibu Saint, in at 55-1 for Maker, finished fourth, another 2 1/4 lengths back, after saving ground through the far turn. Rounding out the field were Rahway, Over Thinking, Pamina, Lemon Princess, Smart Shot, Cloak of Secrecy, Dothraki Sea and Heavenly Love.
With only Thursday’s card left in the meet, Maker has a virtually insurmountable 8-3 lead over Wesley Ward and Mark Casse. Six-time defending owner Ken and Sarah Ramsey won the fifth race with Peru - and teaming with Maker and Ortiz — to take a 3-2 lead in the owners’ standings over DARRS Inc., Calumet Farm and Woodford Racing.