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FRANKLIN, KY – Timing is everything in sports and life, as In Good Spirits proved again Saturday in her victory in the $600,000 Keeneland Mint Ladies Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs.
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Bal Mar Equine’s 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly drew into the race when She’s So Special scratched Saturday morning and was promptly shipped from Churchill Downs to provide Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez with his first victory at the track.
Sent off at 14/1 from the outside post in the field of 12, she finished 2 lengths in front of Catch a Bid and paid $31.80 to win.
Trainer Al Stall Jr. said he had made it clear to Kentucky Downs officials that he would have his filly in the gate if a scratch occurred.
“We didn’t learn that we were in the race until 9-something this morning after the vets went around and checked the horses. The 3 horse didn’t pass the vet check,” Stall said. “The stewards did a nice job and called me up. They knew I wanted to run. I had a truck waiting, and when we got the word, we loaded up and headed on down. It was worth the trip.”
Venetian Harbor, the even-money favorite, broke slowly, went to the front early under Florent Geroux, but gave up the lead almost as quickly as she seized it and was 10th.
“She couldn’t handle the track,” Geroux said. “She was very wide. No horse. It was a sign that the horse does not appreciate the track.”
In Good Spirits sat a bit back off the pace of 22.33 and :45.88 and finished well to get to the wire in 1:15.35 for 6 1/2 furlongs.
“She scared me a little bit today because she was a little too close,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t want to be that close. She broke so good. I had to wrestle her back a little bit to get her off the horses. Then he settled well. From the 1/4 pole, I saw (Lagertha) trying to get away a little sooner. I decided to let him go and hopefully I can get him coming down the lane. That’s the way it worked out.”
Velazquez acknowledged the first victory with a nod and a chuckle.
“Anytime you win a race, it’s doesn’t matter where it is,” he said. “A win is a win.”
Once a route runner, In Good Spirits was turned into a sprinter this year. She was second in the Caress (G3) in her most recent start, on July 24 at Saratoga.
“We like her around one turn and a stiff 6 1/2 was a good thing for her,” Stall said. “She wants to go a little further, 7 or a flat mile around one turn, also. That looks like her little niche once we shortened her up. She’s got a little bit more of a punch than she did going two turns. She’s got some class. She’s a fresh horse. We’re looking forward to her 5-year-old year.”
Bal Mar is the racing stable of Paul Varga, the retired chairman and CEO of Louisville’s Brown-Forman.
“She had been unlucky this year for us,” Varga said. “We had her entered several times this winter and she had been rained off. She really needs to run on firm turf. She had a soft turf up at Keeneland in the spring and then we waited. At Saratoga, she had a really nice second.
“We were really on pins and needles on whether she’d get in here, since she was on the also-eligible list. But we got the call this morning at almost 10 o’clock and she ran her race.”
Varga said that Stall figured out the filly and shortened her up.
“Al had always thought she wanted to do a sustained one turn, anywhere from 6 (furlongs) to a mile. So we’ll have to look and see what’s in the books, and try to find where to run her again. Probably a flat one turn at 7 furlongs is her best.”
Joe Sharp, Catch a Bid’s trainer, said that he was pleased with the way his filly ran under Luis Saez.
“Luis gave her a great trip, kept her covered up and she came flying,” Sharp said. “I think the ground has gotten pretty firm. But we’re very pleased. This does a lot for her, picking up some graded black type, graded earnings as far as her residual (value) goes. She kind of does anything we want her to: long, short. A versatile mare to have.”
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