Catching my eye: Closing week of Churchill Downs’ September meet

October 3rd, 2023

Kevin Kilroy discusses a few standout horses that caught his eye on the closing weekend of Churchill Downs' September meet.

Wednesday, Sept. 27

Race 6: Twirling Good Time (91 Brisnet Speed figure)

Posted near the far outside against a field of 12 juvenile fillies, Twirling Good Time moved well away from the gates and put herself in a perfect spot, pressing the 2-1 favorite Mia Marcela, who was making her second start. As soon as the Brad Cox firster Silver Rose posed a threat in the turn, Rafael Bejarano had horse, and it was only a matter of loosening the reins on the daughter of Twirling Candy. The Philip Bauer trainee pulled away and powered home for a dominant win.

Yes, she had a perfect trip, but this was a dominant victory that earned a big figure without her having to do much. 

Thursday, Sept. 28

Race 5: Rivalry (89 Brisnet Speed figure)

Rivalry was a bit keyed-up early on, but wow, does he run powerfully! Obviously intent on taking advantage of his outside post position in a field of six, Gerardo Corrales let the Cox horse loose from the gate and had to ask him to settle once on the lead. Watching his strides early on, Rivalry's front hooves pounded the dirt so forcefully it looked like he was pulling up carpet, leaving his foes to slide around on the hardwoods behind him. 

The Uncle Mo colt out of a Tapit mare is a Gary and Mary West homebred, and the horses they send to Brad Cox continue to do quite well, especially this September at Churchill Downs. The owners won four from seven starts with one second-place finish to tie for the meet title.

Rivalry's Brisnet Speed figure was only an 89, but he maintained a five-length lead at the top of the stretch to the finish line, and he was geared down through the wire.

Race 7: Dash Attack (96 Brisnet Speed figure)

Pressured every step of the way by 8-5 favorite Twilight Blue, Dash Attack tried to shake that foe through a quick second quarter but couldn't. But when the challenger came at him again at the eighth pole, the Kenny McPeek trainee turned him away, sealing the deal on the wire-to-wire victory.

Friday, Sept. 29

Race 8: Gavea 

Yes, she hesitated when the gates opened and was a touch green trying to stay straight in the stretch, and it’s true she lost the gallop-out to her game foe, but I have no doubt the German-bred juvenile Gavea is a serious racehorse. Going one mile on the turf for trainer Al Stall Jr., every other moment of the race she demonstrated her speed, mind, and heart. 

Flashing through traffic, she was able to establish a good stalking position and then settle going three wide for much of the race. When dueling to the wire against Mo Fox Givin, she dug in and gutted out the win.

Rallying to victory when breaking her maiden in July at Chantilly in France, this daughter of Gleneagles transitioned to Kentucky with maturity, posting four September morning drills, and beating a well-bred field of 10 fillies in this second-level allowance to stay perfect after her second start.

Saturday, Sept. 30

Race 8, the $200,000 Jefferson Cup: More Than Looks 

A true turf closer and as talented as any three-year-old we’ve seen on the surface this year, More Than Looks re-asserted his position near the top of the division on Saturday, winning the $200,000 Jefferson Cup by open lengths under Cristian Torres. 

Wide and near the back throughout, when they turned for home the separation between Cherie DeVaux’s graded stakes winner and the leader seemed insurmountable. Demonstrating his ability to gather speed with every stride, he made the field look like statues as he cruised to the front and continued to add lengths past the wire. I see his best will come going longer, and his gallop-out on Saturday tells the same tale.

Though a touch slower than his win in the Manila (G3) at Belmont this summer, where he received a 99 Brisnet Speed figure, More Than Looks ran a promising upward Brisnet pace line of 82-92-100 to go along with his 96 Speed figure.

Race 9, the $400,000 Ack Ack (G3): Zozos

Although after the race Cox said he’s not certain if Zozos will take the spot he earned in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), his victory in the “Win and You're In” $400,000 Ack Ack Saturday was a fitting bookend to an impressive four-year-old campaign. Having won three of his five races this year ahead of the Ack Ack — and really we should count his December comeback race in the campaign and call it four from six — the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) 10th-place finisher hadn’t won a graded stakes before Saturday. He finished fifth in the Louisiana (G3) this spring and fourth in the Philip H. Iselin (G3) over the summer.

In the Ack Ack, Zozos flashed his natural speed, took over the early lead, and never looked back. The course was favoring forward runners, and no matter what speed figure you look at (Brisnet gave him a 94), it wasn't the fastest Zozos has run, but the colt beat a solid field and found what he does best: a one-turn mile. It’s a big win for our sport when Derby horses can continue to run as four-year-olds, and I am hoping we get to see this cool colt come 2024.