It doesn't matter what the odds board may say. When Breeders' Cup implications are on the line, the combination of trainer Dale Romans and owner Spendthrift Farm know how to get the narrowest of margins in their collective favor.
Romans's arsenal for next month's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita added another member Thursday when Spendthrift's homebred filly Moonwalk won a three-horse photo finish at odds of 36-to-1 to take the Grade III JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes over the Keeneland turf.
The 11⁄16-mile Jessamine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies was a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race for the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Last year's Breeders' Cup famously saw the Romans-Spendthrift combo leave bettors aghast when they sent Court Vision out to upset the $2 million Mile at odds of 64-to-1.
Hindsight, of course, shows Moonwalk probably shouldn't have been as ignored as she was in the Jessamine. The dark bay daughter of Spendthrift sire Malibu Moon has not been off the board in four career starts and finished third to fellow Jessamine entrant Oscar Party in the seven furlong Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, her first try over turf.
"We felt like she'd be better going longer," said Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift. "Her half brother (Atswhatimtalkinbout) ran a really good fourth in the (2003) Kentucky Derby so we knew there was a lot of stamina there. She just was always a nice filly.
"We felt like this was a little bit of a tough spot but Dale took a Breeders' Cup race for us last year at 64-to-1 so I'm not going to argue with him. "
With Corey Lanerie in the irons, Moonwalk sat three-wide in second under an easy hold in the 11-horse field while pacesetter Sunset Time tried to make her speed stand up after setting an opening half in :49.56.
When Sunset Time began to yield, Moonwalk advanced between that one and Summer of Fun to her outside entering the stretch and set down for a furious multi-horse battle.
As those two went eye to eye, the Graham Motion trained Kitten's Point joined the fray three wide from fifth but it was Moonwalk's mettle that prevailed on the inside in a final time of 1:45.17 over firm going, edging Kitten's Point by a nose with Summer of Fun a head back in third.
"We know she was bred for the turf and we expected her to move up on it," said Romans, who counts Grade I winners Dullahan, Shackleford, and Little Mike among his Breeders' Cup contingent. "I thought she had won but they were taking so long (with the results) I thought I might have been wrong. She showed how much she can run."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.