Instead of a hopeful cashing in on a last-ditch chance to make the Kentucky Derby field, the Lexington Stakes proved to be a showcase for the long shots.
And the winner will be showing up in a Triple Crown race sometime in the near future.
King Fury — off at 18-1 odds under Brian Hernandez Jr. and trained by Kenny McPeek — took over in the stretch on a sloppy Keeneland track Saturday to win the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths over 20-1 shot Unbridled Honor, earning 20 Derby qualifying points on the final weekend of prep races.
It was the first start of 2021 for King Fury, who showed early promise in his 2-year-old season before finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6 and fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28.
King Fury’s two previous victories both came at Churchill Downs, and McPeek sounded like a trainer who would like to see his colt back at that track for the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
“This has always been a really, really good horse,” McPeek said. “… I think he’s going to handle a mile and a quarter without any trouble. Whether he gets in — it’s out of our control.”
With zero Derby qualifying points before Saturday’s victory, King Fury will come out of the weekend several spots below the 20th and final spot on the Derby points board. That means he would need several defections over the next three weeks to make it into the Derby field. It could happen, but it’ll be a waiting game for his connections.
McPeek, a graduate of Tates Creek High School and the University of Kentucky, hasn’t had a Derby starter in eight years. He said if King Fury doesn’t end up with enough points to make the May 1 race, the son of Curlin would be pointed to the Preakness Stakes on May 15 instead. McPeek won the Preakness with filly Swiss Skydiver last year.
Morning-line favorite Proxy and Jeff Ruby Steaks third-place finisher Hockey Dad were the only two horses in the field who would have been assured a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday.
Proxy lagged at the back of the field before finishing fourth, a length behind third-place finisher Starrininmydreams and six lengths behind the winner.
Jockey John Velazquez said Proxy didn’t like the sloppy Keeneland track after rain fell throughout the day in Lexington. The son of Tapit likely still has enough points to get into the Derby field, but trainer Michael Stidham had said earlier this week that his status for that race would hinge on what he showed in the Lexington Stakes.
“We had in the back of our minds to try him on the turf, and now that is something we will look at,” Stidham said after the fourth-place finish. “Maybe not immediately but in the near future.”
Hockey Dad, trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, finished eighth in the nine-horse field, just ahead of the Bob Baffert-trained Bezos, another Derby hopeful earlier in the year.
Juliet Foxtrot romps
In her first start of the year, Juliet Foxtrot didn’t leave the rest of the field with a chance.
The 6-year-old daughter of Dansili took over in the opening stages of the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes and never encountered a challenge on the way to a 2-length victory over Tamahere, with La Signare finishing third.
Juliet Foxtrot — trained by Brad Cox — had won Grade 3 races in each of the past two years and finished third in the Jenny Wiley Stakes last year. She was second in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland in 2019.
Tyler Gaffalione rode her to the front of the six-horse field right at the break Saturday. They were clear out of the final turn and no other contender got within a length of Juliet Foxtrot in the stretch as she rolled to her first Grade 1 victory. The final time for the 1 1/16 miles on the yielding turf was 1:44.51.
“She really relished the ground,” Gaffalione said. “They said that they worked her a couple weeks back over a turf course similar to this and they said she just ate it up. As soon as she broke, I could feel that I had a ton of horse and she was loving every bit of it. I just put my hands down when she broke and she came right back to me. It was an easy ride today.”
Juliet Foxtrot was bred in Great Britain and raced there at ages 2 and 3 before coming to the United States as a 4-year-old. Her first start in America was a victory in an allowance race at Keeneland in 2019.
Micheline — the 2-1 morning-line favorite for trainer Michael Stidham — finished last in the field of six.
Justify’s little brother wins
Stage Raider, who came from the same dam as Triple Crown winner Justify, proved much the best in the final race on the Keeneland card Saturday, winning a $79,000 maiden race to cap a rainy day at the track.
The son of Pioneerof the Nile — sire to another Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah — and dam Stage Magic (a daughter of Ghostzapper) put in a big run in the final stages of the race to win by 11 1/4 lengths. It was just the second career start for Stage Raider, who finished second to one-time Kentucky Derby hopeful Prevalence in a maiden race at Gulfstream Park in January.
Chad Brown trains Stage Raider, who was bred by John D. Gunther and fetched a top bid of $950,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2019. That bid did not meet the reserve price, and Gunther retained ownership of the colt.
Stage Raider paid $5.80 to win as the 9-5 favorite in the 11-horse field.
Derby hopeful at Keeneland
Kentucky Derby contender Like the King was on the Keeneland turf course Saturday morning for his first workout since winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks last month.
Like the King worked 6 furlongs in 1:16 flat as he points toward the Derby at Churchill Downs in three weeks. The son of Palace Malice is expected to be one of the longest shots in the Derby field on May 1, and that race will be his first over a dirt surface since last fall.
His last three starts have all been over Turfway’s synthetic surface.
Trainer Wesley Ward said Like the King will have two more workouts leading into the Derby, and both of those will come on the dirt. He’s scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs after his final workout at Keeneland, which is set for April 25, six days before the Derby.
Drayden Van Dyke rode Like the King for the first time in his Jeff Ruby Steaks victory. He was aboard for Saturday’s workout and will have the mount for the Kentucky Derby.
Silver Dust wins Ben Ali
The Grade 3 Ben Ali — the first stakes race on the Keeneland card Saturday — provided quite a finish, with less than a length separating the first- and last-place runners in the five-horse field.
Silver Dust came away with the victory over the sloppy track, sitting in second place for most of the way before challenging pacesetter Sprawl going into the final turn and taking the lead for good in the stretch. Silver Dust — a striking gray son of Tapit — hit the wire first with jockey Adam Beschizza aboard, holding off a charge from favorite Night Ops to win by half a length.
Beau Luminarie was another neck back in third. Sprawl was a nose behind him in fourth, and Treasure Trove finished fifth and last, just a nose behind Sprawl and less than a length behind the winner.
Silver Dust — a 7-year-old gelding — won for the seventh time in 33 career starts. He had gone six races without a victory for trainer Bret Calhoun.
▪ Change of Control unleashed a big run in the stretch and passed even-money favorite Into Mystic to win the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes over a yielding Keeneland turf course Saturday afternoon. It marked the 500th career victory for trainer Michelle Lovell.