When Starship Jubilee was claimed for $16,000 out of a second-place finish in a 7 1/2-furlong turf race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 12, 2017, there was nothing distinguished about her career to that point and expectations were modest.
Past performances showed she had a knack for closing ground in relatively short turf races. Kevin Attard, who became her new trainer, thought she might be competitive in longer grass races offered at Woodbine, his home base.
According to Attard, he “never in a million years” envisioned that the then 4-year-old filly would transform into a time-defying mare, a two-time Grade 1 winner and earner of more than $2 million set to close her memorable career at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
“She’s arguably at the best of her career. She defies everything that you’re accustomed to in racing,” said Attard, 44. “She’s the queen of the barn, that’s for sure.”
Older mares typically lose a step or two or three and the call of motherhood becomes louder than the call to the post. Starship Jubilee? She is kicking butt.
The Florida-bred daughter of Indy Wind has reeled off seven victories in her last nine starts since mid-September of last year. That torrid stretch includes two Grade 1s, in the E.P. Taylor Stakes last Oct. 12 at Woodbine and in her most recent start, when she defeated males in the Sept. 19 Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
She joined Ventura (2009) and Tepin (2016) as the only females to win the prestigious Woodbine Mile, turning back March to the Arch by one length. War of Will, last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, came in third.
Starship Jubilee’s career is a testament to Attard’s training, but also to smart management at Blue Heaven Farm in Versailles, Ky. Blue Heaven purchased her from Attard after she failed to meet her $425,000 reserve at Keeneland’s 2018 November Breeding Stock Sale.
Blue Heaven made the acquisition with an eye toward enhancing its broodmare band. After Adam Corndorf, the farm’s general manager, spoke to Attard, the decision was made to keep her in training and evaluate the then multiple Grade 2 winner race by race.
“When she needs the time, she needs the time and we’ve given that to her,” Corndorf said. “She’s rewarded us by giving us everything she’s got in all of these races.”
The bay mare’s late-career surge has allowed her to win half of her 38 career starts with five runner-up efforts and three third-place results. That includes five victories in six races this season, a reflection of Attard’s sound advice and Blue Heaven’s willingness to listen.
Corndorf recalled a conversation toward the end of last season in which Attard suggested she was just beginning to find her best stride. “I thought he was joking,” the general manager said. “But I guess he was right.”
Corndorf went on, “You don’t expect this of any horse. What she’s done has been fantastic. It’s amazing her soundness and her continued competitiveness and interest. All of the credit for that goes to Kevin. He’s managed her immaculately. He knows her better than anyone. He knows when she needs time and when she doesn’t.”
Starship Jubilee absorbed her only loss this season when she finished fourth in the Aug. 23 Diana Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, a race in which her chances were compromised by a relatively slow pace and the imposing presence of Rushing Fall, the winner. She rebounded strongly in the Woodbine Mile, even if she was the oldest horse and the only female in that classy field.
The Woodbine Mile gained added significance because it is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. The season-ending championships at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 6 and 7 had been the ultimate target.
“We kind of took it race by race. We did hope everything might accumulate to the Breeders’ Cup,” Attard said. “She’s stayed good and healthy and she’s still enjoying what she does.”
As of Oct. 25, Starship Jubilee shows four workouts since the Woodbine Mile, highlighted by a bullet four-furlong drill in 48 seconds on Oct. 10 at Woodbine, best of 20 at the distance. She will compete on Nov. 7 in either the $1 million FanDuel Mile Presented by PDJF or the $2 million Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf, depending on how those fields compare.
“We’ve obviously got out work cut out for us, but she’s training really well,” Attard said. “She’s as happy as I’d like her to be.”
Corndorf is cautiously optimistic. “These are extremely tough races, the best horses in the world domestically and internationally. We go in with a healthy amount of respect for all of the horses,” he said. “But she’s shown us all we have to do is give her a chance. Obviously, she doesn’t win every single race, but she tries incredibly hard every single time. We feel like if we can get her in the mix and let her go eye to eye, she’s going to be right there.”
Whatever the outcome, Corndorf is eager to see what Starship Jubilee can accomplish in her second career as a broodmare.
“She’s done more than enough. We’re looking forward to getting her back here at the farm and pampering her like a queen,” he said. “We’re hoping to usher in the next generation and hoping they have the same ability and will to win that she does.”
That is asking a lot, of course. Then again, Starship Jubilee has already accomplished more than anyone could have envisioned.