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FRANKLIN, KY – Trainer Brendan Walsh had a few reasons to smile after Family Way’s narrow victory Sunday in the $550,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon.
By edging La Lune by a neck in a three-horse blanket finish, the 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly earned her first stakes victory in North America and lifted Walsh into a tie for the trainer’s title. It was a triumph with a high-strung filly owned by Walsh’s pals.
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Walsh ran Family Way against males on August 8 at Ellis Park at 1 1/4 miles to set her up for the Marathon’s 1 5/16 miles. She was a solid third at Ellis and got to the wire on time Sunday, completing the final stake of the meet in 2:07.38. She was 5/1 in the wagering and paid $13.20, $6.80, and $4.80.
“All the credit goes to Brendan and his team,” said winning jockey Tyler Gaffalione. “This filly has been a project from the beginning. He’s done a tremendous job with her.”
Blame Debbie and Stand Tall set the pace with opening fractions of :25.48 and :50.36. Go Big Blue Nation, who finished third by a nose, owned the lead through 6 furlongs in 1:14.60 and a mile in 1:38.78. Family Way and La Luna came running, engaged Go Big Blue Nation, and the three battled to the wire.
“Very simple race,” said Gaffalione. “She broke well. She tracked the leaders and coming down the backside hill, I was able to just jump outside and get into the three-path and let my filly find her stride. When I called on her, she finished up well. I saved most of the ground to maybe about the half-mile pole and then I figured that I had plenty of horse, just give her a clean path.”
Godolphin’s Micheline, the winner of the 2020 Dueling Grounds Oaks, ended up sixth with record-setting jockey Joel Rosario, who was trying to sweep the 3 stakes on closing day.
“I had some room inside, but then a horse came in on me a little bit,” Rosario said. “I had to go to another plan and go outside, but I was blocked that way, too. She still was finishing a little bit, and had a little energy left and kept running to the end.”
Walsh said that Family Way, an Uncle Mo filly, has been a bit of a challenge since the Kentucky-bred was imported from Europe for this season.
“She has been a little bit temperamental, but not too bad,” he said. “It’s a tribute to my team that they have done a great job on her because she was a little bit of a project from the get-go. But we’ve got her turned around and I think she showed that today. It’s great to win this with her because she belongs to a bunch of friends of mine, who bought her last year in France.”
Walsh said the ownership group of Fergus Galvin’s Hunter Valley Farm, Debra L. O’Connor and Marc Detampel were attracted to the filly by her breeding.
“She has a great pedigree,” Walsh said. “The pedigree actually goes back to a filly called Mekko Hokte, who Eddie Kenneally trained when I worked for Eddie. It’s the family of Caravaggio. It’s a serious pedigree. It’s huge to win something like this with her.”
Family Way’s dam Susie’s Baby, by Giant’s Causeway, is a half-sister to Caravaggio, a Group 1 winner in Ireland. He stood at Ashford Stud this year.
The Ladies Marathon was on the schedule that Walsh developed for the filly and she earned $317,130 for her fourth career victory.
“This was going to be our plan at the end of the year. It was always on the cards,” he said. “We thought that the distance was maybe going to stretch her a little bit, but she seemed like she got it pretty good. She loved the track here today.”
Family Way was calm before the race, as Walsh and his staff had hoped.
“She had been doing really good and she behaved very well in the paddock today, which gave me an inkling that maybe today was going to be a good day for her,” he said. “It was a question of whether she was good enough or not. She beat some nice fillies today.”
Trainer Ed Vaughn came away impressed with the way the British-bred La Lune, owned by Alex Frost, ran in the Marathon.
“It’s her first run since she came from England just a little while back. She’s a tiny filly but she’s all heart,” he said. “She’s a Grade 3 winner in England and a listed winner. She skipped around there very well. It’s gutting to come so close and not get it done. She’s come from last.
“But she’ll have a future here for sure. The Dowager at Keeneland, that’s where I’d say we’ll go next. … She’s at the top of her game now, so we look forward to running her next time. I think just a bit more experience like American style, just jumping out of the gate quickly.”
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