Some might say it takes an equal amount of luck and skill to have a horse advance to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. In the case of Albaugh Family Stables, it possesses so much of both that it has a pair of 2-year-olds pointed toward the season-culminating event at Keeneland Race Course.
Two days after Girl Daddy won the Pocahontas Stakes Sept. 3 at Churchill Downs to nab a fees-paid berth in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, fellow Dale Romans trainee Sittin On Go made sure to join her on Future Stars Friday on Nov. 6. He rallied for an upset victory in the Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford, a “Win and In” for the $2 million TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
“To have a filly and a colt in the Breeders’ Cup, it’s an unreal feeling,” said Jason Loutsch, racing manager for Iowa-based Albaugh. “I still watch the replays. We’re excited about going forward, especially at Keeneland, one of our favorite tracks.”
Girl Daddy’s name serves, in part, as a tribute to the late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. He coached a youth girls basketball team that included his daughter and often referred to himself as a “girl daddy.” In addition, Loutsch has two daughters. His father-in-law, Dennis, has four grandchildren. All are girls.
Albaugh typically focuses on purchasing colts at Keeneland’s September yearling sale. It made an exception because, as the team was inspecting yearlings, Dennis found himself drawn to the richly-bred Uncle Mo filly that became Girl Daddy.
“He looked over and said, ‘Who is that?’ ” Loutsch recalled. “She was beautiful and so athletic looking. Her presence and her mind and her look was great. We kept looking at her and looking at her and every time we liked her more and more.”
She certainly had the pedigree for success. In addition to being a daughter of top sire Uncle Mo, her dam, Cara Marie, is a stakes winner by Unbridled’s Song.
“Our team went through all the hoops with her to make sure she fit our program and she did,” Loutsch said. “We couldn’t be more excited to have her.”
Dennis wanted her badly enough that he continued to bid until the hammer fell his way at $500,000. There is every sign that money was well spent.
Girl Daddy overcame a slow start in her July 24 debut to dominate by 5 ½ lengths at six furlongs at Ellis Park. Romans commented afterward that he expected her to win by more. Dennis felt even more connected to her than before when she rolled by two lengths in the Pocahantas on his 71st birthday. She collected the first 10 qualifying points awarded for the 2021 Longines Kentucky Oaks. Joseph Talamo was aboard both times.
The veteran Romans, a four-time winner of the Pocahantas, has called her “the best 2-year-old filly I ever trained.”
He could not be happier with her progress. “She’s done everything we asked of her so far, and I feel there’s even more,” he said. “Joe hasn’t asked her to run yet.”
Albaugh Family Stables had more modest aspirations when it purchased Sittin On Go for $65,000 as a weanling. Its intention was largely to support Brody’s Cause, a multiple Grade 1 winner who finished seventh for the Iowa-based family in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. When it offered him as a yearling at Keeneland, he failed to meet a reserve set for the same $65,000.
“He was from a first-crop sire and the demand wasn’t there so we said, ‘We’re just going to keep him,’ ” Loutsch said. “You just don’t know at a yearling sale what buyers are thinking.”
Albaugh was as fortunate there as it was when Girl Daddy happened to come into Dennis’ view. Loutsch said of Sittin On Go’s failure to meet his reserve, “That was a very lucky situation because he’s turned into a very nice horse.”
There were modest expectations when Sittin On Go debuted Aug. 16 at five furlongs at Ellis Park. He was always viewed as a prospect that would appreciate more ground. And yet he won. “When he made a huge move, it got our attention,” Loutsch said.
It did not turn the heads of many handicappers, though. Although the colt was sent off at 24-1 in the Iroquois, he relished the move to a mile and his overpowering late run delivered a 2 ½-length victory with Corey Lanerie aboard. He registered the first 10 qualifying points toward the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
“That horse has really done well,” Romans said. “He’s changed and he’s changed for the better. He’s figuring the game out. He’s getting more aggressive, more on the bit, knowing what he’s supposed to do. You can just tell he likes it.”
Albaugh, in conjunction with Romans, made an interesting decision with both horses. Both bypassed potential prep races at Keeneland to train up to the Breeders’ Cup following their “Win and You’re In” victories.
“I just think it’s asking too much of a 2-year-old,” Loutsch said, “after running a big race like he did and she did.”