Heavenly Love, Whitmore Shine on Opening Day at Keeneland

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Heavenly Love, inside, rolled to a 5 1/2-length win in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes on Friday at Keeneland. (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

Horses can fool even the best of trainers with the signals they give off.

They can tout themselves in the morning hours and then run like completely different animals when asked to give their best in a competitive setting. So even though Heavenly Love had trained like a beast in the making on the dirt, the only winning result she had produced in her tiny career sample size was a blowout effort on the turf at Kentucky Downs.

During her 1 1/16-mile tour of Keeneland in the $400,000, Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes on Oct. 6, Debby Oxley’s homebred filly showed her class wasn’t a figment of her connections’ minds.

After tracking stablemate and pacesetter Dancing in second, Heavenly Love put the afterburners on and kicked her way into a spot on a Breeders’ Cup-bound flight when she cruised to a 5 1/2-length win in the Alcibiades, a “Win and You’re In” race for the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Based on what the bay daughter of Malibu Moon had been telling trainer Mark Casse and his staff in the morning, the commanding surge to the front she made on the far turn was dead-on true to script. She had been training so well on the main track that Casse hesitated to run her on the turf at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 7. Knowing she needed experience and an outlet for her ability sooner rather than later, assistant trainer David Carroll urged his boss to let her get her feet wet over the European-style course, and then was blown away when she rallied from 10th that day to win by five lengths.

“Obviously, she won impressively at Kentucky Downs and then you just wonder how that would translate to the dirt,” Carroll said. “I don’t think it mattered what she ran on. Mark kind of questioned whether we should run her or not [at Kentucky Downs], and I begged him to run her there and thankfully it worked out well.

“Her works were just awesome. Her disposition — everything about her just oozes class. I said to Mr. Oxley in the paddock before the race ... what you’re seeing right now is something you can’t buy and that’s class. Her disposition — the way she walked — she had that look about her and she ran to all of that.”

Heavenly Love (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

Sent off at 5.70-1 in the 10-horse field of 2-year-old fillies, Heavenly Love showed that—unlike her maiden victory and her third-place finish first time out at Gulfstream Park June 24, when she came from off the pace — she was capable of racing just off the early fractions.

After Dancing cut an opening quarter in :23.94 and a half-mile in :48.38, with her stablemate in the two-path just off her tail, jockey Julien Leparoux opened the reins on Heavenly Love and let her burgeoning talent take over from there.

“We had a great trip, sitting second [early in the race],” said Leparoux, who won three races on Keeneland’s opening day. “She exploded [and took the lead around the final turn], but we still had some left. When she gets to the lead, she kind of looks around. She’s still a little baby, but she’s a very nice filly. She impressed me at Kentucky Downs when she won. She repeated it today.”

By the time she reached the head of the lane, Heavenly Love had opened up a three-length advantage and poured it on under hand urging to cover the distance in 1:45.32 on a fast track.

Race favorite Princess Warrior finished second and Dancing held on for third. Sassy Sienna and Kelly’s Humor rounded out the top five.

“You just don’t know. You really don’t know what you have at this stage and we really didn’t expect her to run on the grass as well as she did,” Debby Oxley said. “That was a surprise. I usually sell a lot, but I kept her. [Heavenly Love’s dam] Darling My Darling is getting older and it’s really exciting to have a Grade 1  winner out of her.

“And sometimes you’ve just got to have fun.”


$250,000 STOLL KEENON OGDEN PHOENIX STAKES: Whitmore, who recently saw a five-race victory streak halted with a pair of thirds, returned to the winner’s circle Oct. 6 with a narrow score in the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes.

Whitmore (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

The 4-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding punched his ticket to the Nov. 4 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar via the six-furlong Phoenix, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” event.

“I’m going to relish this Phoenix victory, but the Breeders’ Cup has been our goal, so if everything’s great, we’re going,” trainer Ron Moquett said.

Whitmore, who races for Robert LaPenta, Moquett’s Southern Springs Stables, and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, was seventh early and ran down Jacks or Better Farm’s 16-1 shot Awesome Banner, who broke alertly from the inside post in a field of 11 and set quarter-mile fractions of :22.27 and :45.75 before digging deep through five-eighths in :57.73.

Fanned into the five-path entering the lane, Whitmore put in a hard-charging run under jockey Manny Franco and prevailed in a blanket finish between Awesome Banner and 5-2 choice Limousine Liberal. The final time was 1:09.90 on a fast track.

“When I made my move, he was game,” Franco said. “He never gave up, and we did it.”

Whitmore, bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis out of the Scat Daddy mare Melody’s Spirit, came off a third in the Sept. 16 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, and was third one race prior in the June 9 True North Stakes at Belmont Park. His string of five wins prior included the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. The Phoenix was his first Grade 2 score.—Claire Novak-Crosby

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