Trainer Kathleen O’Connell knew Well Defined was ready to bring his best effort when he arrived in the paddock Feb. 9 for the $250,000, Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
“Today, he showed up with his game face on,” O’Connell said after the Florida-bred gelding drew off to a 2 3/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile prep race for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. “He’s a young horse who is improving — mind-wise and everything-wise.”
Well Defined put it all together Saturday to earn not only his first graded score for breeders Gil and Marilyn Campbell of Stonehedge Farm, but 10 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, as well. With jockey Pablo Morales aboard from post-position nine, the With Distinction gelding used his quickness from the gate to get over to the rail, cleared eight opponents headed into the clubhouse turn, and was easily in command to the finish line.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
“This horse has a ton of natural talent, and I was going to take advantage of that,” Morales said. “I wasn’t too worried about where I was going to be, because we were really lucky with the draw position on the outside, so I figured I was going to ride a cool race. The horse is naturally fast and has a super-long stride. I was going to come out running, but if somebody wanted to take the lead, I was OK with that. All I wanted to do was ride a cool and collected race and keep my horse running.”
Well Defined ran the first quarter-mile in :23.23 with a three-length advantage over 9-5 favorite Knicks Go, cruised the half-mile in :47.09 with a two-length lead, and posted three-quarters in 1:11.68 with the margin cut to 1 1/2 lengths, as it looked like the favorite might make his move under Albin Jimenez. Instead, Well Defined opened the advantage again to three lengths turning for home. He ran the mile in 1:36.41, and finished in 1:42.70 on a fast track.
“I didn’t feel like I was going that fast at all,” Morales said. “My horse was going as comfortable as he possibly could. I knew he was doing it relaxed and very much on his own. I had a lot of horse going into the second turn, so I figured I was going to ask him a little more and not wait for them to get me. If they were going to catch me, they were really going to have to come running.”
That’s exactly what runner-up Kentucky Wildcat did. He closed from seventh to wind up second, but was unable to threaten the winner. Godolphin’s son of Tapit was vanned off after the race. Later, trainer Tom Albertrani told the Tampa Bay publicity department the colt was bearing weight and resting comfortably but would be transported to a clinic in Ocala for observation.
So Alive completed the trifecta another 8 3/4 lengths back, while Counter Offer was 1 1/2 lengths behind him and edged Knicks Go by a nose for fourth.
Trainer Ben Colebrook did not have an immediate excuse for the fifth-place finish of Knicks Go.
“Albin said he was getting out a little around the turn, so I don’t know what to make of that,” Colebrook said. “It looked like he had dead aim and then he kind of flattened out. It didn’t go the way we wanted, but hopefully there will be another day.”
For O’Connell, who took a shot in November and ran Well Defined in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile only to watch him finish 12th, the win was a validation of the talent she knew the gelding possessed.
“That’s very, very special to do it at Tampa Bay,” the trainer said. “He’s had little things that have happened, and he’s grown up mentally and physically. I like this horse a lot and the decision [on what’s next] will be up to the owners, but we just want him healthy.”
Well Defined won the Sept. 29 Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association’s Florida Sire In Reality Stakes in his fourth start, at which point he’d finished no worse than third. Briefly rested after the Breeders’ Cup, he came back Jan. 5 with a fifth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and secured his first victory of the season Saturday in the Sam F. Davis.
“He is kind of a free-running horse,” O’Connell said. “His rear end slipped out from underneath him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and he was compromised on early position when he ran in the Mucho Macho Man and got bottled up inside.”