Red Ruby seemed to be star-crossed when she was injured in a shedrow accident in early April, eventually costing her a start in the prestigious Longines Kentucky Oaks.
She rebounded to simply be a star when she splashed home by 4 ¾ lengths over Coach Rocks in the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday at Pimlico Race Course.
The daughter of Tiznow has always been a bit high-strung. That characteristic was never more to her detriment than it was one morning in early April at the Oaklawn Park barn of Kellyn Gorder, her trainer. He found himself short-handed and still had two horses to gallop as the time allotted for training that morning wound down to a close. So he hopped on one of the remaining horses, borrowed a groom from a neighbor, and left the barn.
He would soon lament that decision.
When a horse in front of cooling-out Red Ruby spooked, she beat a hasty retreat and dragged her hotwalker behind her. By the time she came to a stop, she had cut herself in several places. Although all of the wounds were superficial, 13 stitches were needed to close them and she was confined to her stall for the next 16 days.
Gorder admitted that the decisive victory in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan was somewhat bittersweet because he had hoped for that kind of performance in the Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Oaks on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Instead, the incident forced him to withdraw her from that all-important race for 3-year-old fillies.
“You always say, ‘What should I have done differently?’ ” Gorder said. “Of course, I blame myself because I got on a horse and left the barn.”
The schedule had called for Red Ruby to contest the April 13 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park as a prep for the Oaks. That plan was quickly scrapped, but the connections held out hope for the Oaks.
“I didn’t take her out of the Oaks until late,” the trainer said, adding that he made the right move in withdrawing her.
The Kentucky-bred recovered from her mishap in time to have only two works at Keeneland Race Course, making her Black-Eyed Susan rout all the more impressive.
“That’s kind of what we thought she had,” Gorder said.
While her talent is clear, nothing about Red Ruby has been easy. She tends to get stressed during the post parade, something that proved especially costly when she weakened to finish fourth in the March 10 Honeybee Stakes, a Grade 3 race at Oaklawn.
“She ran her race in the post parade,” Gorder said of a quirky but promising filly that now has won three of five career starts with one second-place finish.
To keep the Honeybee disappointment from repeating in the Black-Eyed Susan, the trainer galloped her the morning of the race. He thought that tactic helped but noted of the post parade, “She still was pushing the pony a bit.”
As the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan unfolded, Red Ruby was pushing pacesetter Coach Rocks and jockey Luis Saez through fractions of 23.28 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 47.95 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:12.78 through three-quarters of a mile on a sloppy track that was sealed.
She raced just off Coach Rocks before looming three wide on the far turn. When Paco Lopez signaled that it was time to go, she shot into the lead at the top of the stretch. She lugged in near the eighth pole before drawing off.
Red Ruby crossed the finish line in 1:50.17 and returned $7.80, $4 and $3.20. Indy Union rallied for third.
Gorder said their ultimate target would be the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in August.
“The longer races are going to hit her right between the eyes,” he said before walking off. He almost surely had to be wondering what might have been.