Catching My Eye: Mighty Hearts and Raw Talent at Keeneland

October 17th, 2023

A fantastic card at Keeneland on Saturday was punctuated time and again by a triumphant favorite, winning each of the final six races, including the sensational $600,000 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1). The raw talent of freshman Dornoch and the gallant heart of both Lindy and First Mission were on full display. 

Race 6 $100,000 Maiden Special Weight for two-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt

You heard it. I heard it. Anyone watching Saratoga Live that day heard Danny Gargan tell Maggie Wolfendale that Dornoch would win on debut. He was wrong. Dornoch finished second in the slop after taking a bump out of the gate. In stakes company at Monmouth on second asking, likewise a bump and then a wide trip to rack up a consecutive second-place finish. Gargan has also said Dornoch is “the best horse I have ever trained.” So would the third time be the charm for this full brother to Kentucky Derby 149-winner Mage? 

Returning to maiden company and stretching out an extra 1/16th of a mile at Keeneland on Saturday, this two-year-old son of Good Magic put his talent on full display. And his immaturity. Breaking cleanly away and to the lead, Dornach received constant pressure from the eventual third-place finisher Lat Long, but when they exited the far turn, shazam — Dornoch whooshed away from the field. Having trouble switching leads, he ran awkwardly in the stretch, but that’s the sort of thing this full brother to Mage will assuredly work out in his training. Gargan was not wrong to be brimming with confidence about one of his many talented two-year-olds. 

Race 9 $600,000 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1)

Take nothing away from Mawj, who took the field of nine fillies wire-to-wire in the QEII. But I do pause when crowning her queen, and prefer Lindy going forward. I might be bitter and biased because I preferred Lindy going in as well, but hear me out. Visually there’s no arguing it—nothing was more impressive in the QEII than Lindy’s late turn of foot. Receiving the services of meet leading rider Tyler Gaffalione—who was shut out of the winner’s circle—Lindy was keen out of the gate breaking in stride with Mawj. She ran the first furlong like she would press but Tyler changed his mind and took a strong hold to settle her and save ground, dropping to the rail mid-pack as Mawj led the ranks. 

Lindy looked stuck on the rail as the front three runners weren’t going anywhere — in fact, they held on for first, third, and fourth — but as soon as there was a crack in their fortress near the 1/8th pole, Tyler had her off the rail and she leapt into the fast lane, where she flew home the fastest of all. Visually, give me Lindy out of this — as we have seen from her before, her heart for the race is evident out of the gates and nearing the wire. Also, looking at the times, she covered the final furlong in :11.82, the quickest in the field. Considering that she ran the previous quarter mile in :23.90 and the opening quarter mile in :23.82, well, all I can say is this is one talented filly in Brendan Walsh’s barn.

Race 10 $80,000 OC Allowance n2x for three-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt 

We knew it after the Lexington (G3) last April when First Mission got his first win across Keeneland’s main track. Some people call it late pace, but when you watch what First Mission overcame in Saturday’s finale, that ability to run fastest at the end might be best known as heart, a Thoroughbred’s most resonant and endearing quality. 

Breaking from the rail under Luis Saez, who has as mighty of a heart as the best horses he rides, First Mission was soon surrounded by four foes who formed an impenetrable wall and held position through the 1/8th pole. Facing older horses for the first time, the son of Street Sense could not get through the blockade so he shifted out five wide with the short-stretch finish line nearing. Then First Mission found it inside to produce a courageous rally clearing the game effort from Commandperformance by a stout neck. 

Godolphin’s sophomore colt trained by Brad Cox has only four races under his belt, and he’s won them all except his debut when he surprised his stablemate Bishops Bay at Fair Grounds coming back on him late only to lose by three-quarters of a length. Back First Mission wherever you see him entered next, which I assume will be against stakes company, but also back him with your love of a horse who offers everything he’s got to the race.