Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Louisiana Derby Winners
With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Katherine G. Ball’s Limousine Liberal, who won of the Grade 2, $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes on July 7 at Belmont Park to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the Twinspires.com Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Prior to his win in the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship, Limousine Liberal’s eight previous victories all had come in the state of Kentucky. In punching his ticket to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Limousine Liberal proved he could win outside of his home state, but this year that detail does not factor into the Breeders’ Cup equation as the event will be held at Churchill Downs.
While it was nice to see the 6-year-old gelding show his class and ability at Belmont Park – and it confirmed he has matured into an elite member of the sprint division – Kentucky-bred Limousine Liberal has always been best at Churchill. He has six wins and one second in eight starts under the famed twin spires, less than 75 miles from his Keeneland base with trainer Ben Colebrook.
Limousine Liberal has won on a fast track at Churchill, a wet-fast track, and a sloppy track. He’s won nail biters by a head at Churchill and overwhelmed the opposition in clear wins. While he does appear to be best at seven-eighths of a mile, he has won multiple races at the three-quarter-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill.
Just to be clear, it’s not as though Limousine Liberal had disgraced himself when venturing out of state: he’d finished in the top three in five of seven attempts prior to the Belmont Sprint Championship and his unplaced finishes came in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (fifth) and Grade 1 Forego Stakes (seventh), also in 2016. Prior to Saturday’s win, Limousine Liberal finished third in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont, a one-turn mile race.
Overall, Limousine Liberal’s profile is one of consistency. He has nine wins in 23 career starts and has finished in the top three in 19 of those races.
The lone blemish on his résumé is the lack of a Grade 1 victory. Although he has one second and two thirds in Grade 1 races, he has never finished closer than four lengths to the winner in six starts in Grade 1 company, leaving fans and analysts to wonder if Limousine Liberal might be a damn good sprinter who is just a few lengths short of the very best of his division.
From a speed figure perspective, Limousine Liberal earned a 113 for his Belmont Sprint Championship victory. His top figure this year came when he earned a 116 for winning the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes Presented by Twinspres.com on a sloppy track on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve undercard. That number is four ticks off the career best 120 he earned for a runner-up finish by a nose in the Grade 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes in 2016 at Keeneland.
For historical perspective, the average Equibase Speed Figure of the winner of the last 20 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint has been 112.7 with a median of 118.5, so Limousine Liberal appears on paper to be fast enough in a typical year.
At some point in the near future, I expect Limousine Liberal to nail down his first Grade 1. Could it come in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint? His affinity for the main track at Churchill is a big plus, and so is his running style as a stalker who is also capable of pressing the pace. Closers have won only two of the last 20 editions of the Sprint – both times champion Midnight Lute – while horses who prefer to press or stalk the pace have won three of the five editions of the Sprint held at Churchill in the last 20 years.
I’d feel better if Limousine Liberal got over the Grade 1 hump before the Breeders’ Cup, but he should regardless be viewed as a top threat in the race. You’d be taking a huge risk leaving him out of the top three provided he maintains his current form and health over the next few months.
Bred in Kentucky by Mike Ball and owner Katherine Ball, Limousine Liberal is by Successful Appeal, a Grade 2 winner at one mile as a 3-year-old and a four-time graded stakes winner in sprints. As a sire, Successful Appeal has shown some versatility with success on dirt and turf and with sprinters and runners capable of navigating two turns, such as 2005 Kentucky Derby runner-up Closing Argument; 2013 Canadian champion Solid Appeal; Successful Dan, a multiple graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles; and Her Emmynency, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles.
But for this exercise, stamina is not a factor and, in fact, Successful Appeal has most frequently passed along his speed to his progeny as a very effective sire of sprinters.
There is not a ton of class in the bottom half of Limousine Liberal’s pedigree. His dam (mother), Gift of Gab, was winless in eight starts but finished in the top three twice at seven-eighths of a mile. She is a full sister (same dam, same sire) to 2005 El Camino Real Derby winner Uncle Denny, who possessed an abundance of speed and had the ability to carry it around two turns.
When evaluating hopefuls for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, pedigree ranks far, far below on-track performance, which is where Limousine Liberal has cemented his credentials as a win contender despite finishing unplaced in his two previous attempts in the race.