The fields for the 14 races that comprise the Breeders’ Cup World Championships begin to really come into focus in late summer and early fall.
The “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series offers the winners of specific individual races an expenses-paid starting spot for corresponding Breeders’ Cup races. On Sept. 11 at Kentucky Downs, Gear Jockey drew away to a convincing victory in the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint Stakes to punch his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
After switching back and forth between the grass and the main track during his first two seasons of racing, Gear Jockey has found a home on the turf in 2021 as a 4-year-old. He has been especially effective this summer in sprints. Let’s examine Gear Jockey’s résumé and pedigree to evaluate his chances to win the Turf Sprint in November.
Gear Jockey is a homebred runner for historic Calumet Farm in Lexington made famous by Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). The farm has changed hands multiple times since it was founded by entrepreneur William Monroe Wright in 1924, and Calumet is now operated by Brad M. Kelley.
If you are an avid racing fan, you most likely became acquainted with Gear Jockey during his 2-year-old season when he finished third in both the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America four weeks later at Santa Anita Park. In fact, if you like to bet a few bucks on big events, you might remember he was part of a monster trifecta in the latter race that included 5.30-1 winner Structor, 55.10-1 runner-up Billy Bats, and 67.50-1 Gear Jockey and paid $2,991.75 for a 50-cent bet.
The fact is that Gear Jockey showed some potential early in his career, but he had yet to win a race entering that year’s Breeders’ Cup and needed nine starts across three seasons to earn his first visit to the winner’s circle.
During that nine-race winless stretch to begin his career, he ran in a dirt sprint, a Grade 1 race on the grass, and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes going 1 1/16 miles on the main track as his connections tried to find the right spot for a breakthrough win. It finally came in his second race this year when he rallied from just off the pace to win a one-mile turf race at Gulfstream Park by a half-length on Jan. 21. He has raced exclusively on the grass since that win.
Following a strong third-place finish in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park that earned a career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure, trainer Rusty Arnold returned the Twirling Candy colt to allowance competition where he was able to build some confidence in a three-race stretch.
Gear Jockey won a one-mile race at Keeneland in April, finished fourth in May going a mile at Churchill Downs, and then made only the second start of his career in a sprint when he won a 5 ½-furlong allowance-optional claiming race by 1 ½ lengths in July at Saratoga.
Encouraged by that performance, Arnold kept Gear Jockey in a turf sprint for his return to stakes competition for the Grade 3 Troy Stakes Presented by Horse Racing Ireland at Saratoga and he rallied for third after a slow start.
On Sept. 11 at Kentucky Downs, Gear Jockey put it all together to earn his first stakes win in the three-quarter-mile FanDuel Turf Sprint Stakes. He pressed the pace set by Bombard from second through the turn and surged to the front under Jose Lezcano near the top of the stretch. Having run multiple quality races navigating two turns in his career, Gear Jockey had plenty of fuel in the tank for the long stretch run at Kentucky Downs and proved much the best in a 2 ½-length victory.
Gear Jockey appears to have found his calling as a turf sprinter with consistent Equibase Speed Figures of 111-111-112 for his last three starts, equaling his career best in the FanDuel Turf Sprint. He earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his first stakes win, which is tied for the fifth-fastest Beyer figure of the year on grass at all distances and tied for second-fastest in a turf sprint.
There always is a concern after a racehorse’s first stakes win if they will be able to replicate that performance. Given Gear Jockey’s consistency when cutting back to turf sprints and proven class in previous graded stakes-placings while racing around two turns on turf, I’m optimistic.
Gear Jockey has never run a bad race on the grass – he has four wins, a second, and two thirds in eight turf races and has never lost by more than 2 ¼ lengths on that surface – and he’s established an elite baseline in sprints this season that makes him a true Turf Sprint contender.
Gear Jockey also ran well in Southern California at the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, which was at Santa Anita rather than this year’s host track, Del Mar, but that shows at least that he can handle firm ground.
One factor that looms as a question mark is cutting back to five-eighths of a mile, which would be the shortest race in which Gear Jockey has competed. The pace very likely will be significantly faster than he saw Sept. 11 at Kentucky Downs with the best turf sprinters in the world competing at Del Mar in November at that short distance.
Gear Jockey is from the fifth crop of versatile sire Twirling Candy, a graded stakes winner on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. He has likewise sired elite runners on all three surfaces and at varying distances. Concrete Rose is a Grade 1 winner by Twirling Candy who excelled going longer distances on the grass; Gift Box is a Grade 1 winner at 1 ¼ miles on dirt and Rombauer won the Preakness Stakes and El Camino Real Derby this year on dirt; Finley’sluckycharm is a Grade 1-winning sprinter on dirt; and Morticia and Gear Jockey profile as top-notch turf sprinters.
Gear Jockey is out of the winning Tapit mare Switching Gears, whose two wins came on the main track at seven-eighths of a mile and one mile and 70 yards. You have to go back three generations to find notable black type (which indicates success in stakes races) in the bottom half of this pedigree as third dam (maternal great-grandmother) Maid for Walking was a Group 3-placed winner who produced Grade 1 winner and sire Stroll and Grade 1-placed multiple stakes winner Patrol.