Trainer Ignacio Correas warned jockey Joe Bravo that in order to get the best out of Blue Prize in their time together at Keeneland on Oct. 7, it would help if the 5-year-old daughter of Pure Prize had something to incite her work ethic.
The Argentine-bred mare is one who thrives the more she is pushed, boasting a career that has seen her race exclusively in stakes company since August 2017 while finishing worse than third just once. Her talent is one that has threatened top-level company in this country since her arrival here last summer but if she had a chink to her, it was her tendency to want to make life more challenging if she gained her advantages too easily.
Coming off the turn of the $500,000, Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, Blue Prize had surged to the front and was striding away in a manner that was threatening to turn the 1 1/8-mile race into a clear exhibition. That’s when Bravo said his equine partner decided to inject some drama into her situation, ducking out erratically into the center of the track and giving all those waiting to celebrate her first Grade 1 win in North America a taste of what cardiac arrest feels like.
“She was lonely,” Bravo said of his adventure filled ride in the stretch. “She got out there, she had tons of horse, and Ignacio warned me before the race ‘Make sure to keep her attention’. He never told me this would happen. But she knew what she was doing.”
Try as she may, Blue Prize couldn’t get in her own way enough Sunday to halt what has been a near textbook march of progression this year. Despite ducking out repeatedly in the final eighth of a mile, the chestnut mare got herself together enough to prevail in the Spinster Stakes by three-quarters of a length over fast-closing Champagne Problems.
“I told [Bravo] to be careful because once she gets on the lead and we have a long way to go she might get bored,” said a relived and jubilant Correas. “I mean it caught me by surprise, too. Thank God, it was a happy ending, everything finished well.”
Harnessing Blue Prize’s love of a good fight is something that has more often than not yielded thrilling returns for Correas and owners Merriebelle Stable.
A Group 1 winner in her native Argentina, Blue Prize made her United States debut last June 11, finishing second in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs. She has been a consistent force in the distaff ranks since, winning the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap last November for her first graded victory on this soil — an effort that came just weeks after running third in last year’s edition of the Spinster.
After beginning her 2018 campaign with an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes on March 17 at Oaklawn Park, she has rattled off triumphs in four of her last five outings and came into the Spinster off back-to-back graded stakes scores in the Fleur de Lis Handicap and Locust Grove Stakes. Her Spinster victory not only marked her first top-level win in this country but also the first U.S Grade 1 score for her fellow Argentine-bred trainer.
“It’s very special. She’s a very special horse,” Correas said. “The people who gave the filly to me ... they trusted me with this filly who was a very expensive filly in my country. And at the time they gave me this filly, I don’t know if everyone would trust a trainer that had like 25-30 horses at the time. I have to be very thankful and very grateful to Merriebelle that they give the opportunity of training her."
The more distance Blue Prize is given to work with, the better she often runs. That being said, Correas did not want to see his charge break from her outside post-position 11 and end up in the middle of the track around the first turn.
Bravo was skillfully able to get his mount in good striking position in the early going, rating her in the clear path in sixth as pacesetter Southernperfection went the opening quarter-mile in :23.79. The 9-2 third betting choice, Blue Prize lost a couple positions as the half mile went up in :47.62 but began eating up ground by the strideful as she advanced three wide past Talk Veuve to Me off the far turn and opened up by two lengths in the lane.
“I was feeling good after the first turn, that’s when I started feeling good because we didn’t go very wide,” Correas said. “Joe, I don’t know how he did it. I knew he had done everything that was possible. Then it was up to her and up to the other ones. The other ones can run, too.”
Nerves were then frayed in the Blue Prize camp as she went on a wild tour of the Keeneland stretch, allowing Champagne Problems to threaten along the rail with Pacific Wind coming right with her. With Bravo switching from a left-handed whip to right-handed urging, Blue Prize regained her lead en route to crossing the finish line in 1:50.02 on a track rated fast.
The Spinster was a "Win and You’re In" race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and, while Blue Prize is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, Correas didn’t hesitate when asked if she would be supplemented into the field for Nov. 3.
“She needs to pay a little bit but she’s earned it,” he grinned.
$250,000, Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes: Making his stakes debut, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta's Current won a three-way photo finish to stamp his ticket to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Current, a 2-year-old colt trained by Todd Pletcher, unleashed a quick turn of foot in midstretch under Jose Ortiz. As pacesetter and race favorite War of Will faded along the inside, Current won by a scant nose over Henley's Joy, with another late closer, Salvator Mundi, another nose back in third. Final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.10.
"He's been training very professionally," said Pletcher's assistant, Ginny DePasquale. "We've really thought a lot of this horse. Todd thought he had a good future, so he sent him here and, of course, he was right. We're really happy about today."