The fairytale of Thoroughbred racing and the tragedy that can too often tinge the sport showed up hand in hand on the Keeneland main track during Friday’s running of the Grade III Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes.
There was trainer Bernie Flint, a gregarious hardboot with over 3,300 career victories, practically floating across the surface to greet Brooklynsway, the filly who validated his patience and handed him his first graded stakes triumph at Keeneland since 2004.
Juxtaposed against that scene was the terrible walk jockey Channing Hill took, mud staining his lip and emotion splattering his face, as he tried to explain to trainer Ingrid Mason the events that cost the 4-year-old filly Back in Dixie her life.
The best and worst moments of the sport collided on what was already an emotionally wrought day.
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Brooklynsway, who has run exclusively in stakes company her entire career, scored her first graded stakes win in her 15th start when she turned back Grade I winner I’m a Chatterbox to take the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes.
Back in Dixie broke down at the top of the stretch. The daughter of Put It Back, who came into the 1 1/16-mile test on a five-race win streak, became the second racing fatality of the 2016 Keeneland Spring Meet, both occurring this week.
The shining moment came with Brooklynsway getting her due for being the honest sort horsemen love. Purchased on behalf of owner Dr. Naveed Chowhan for $180,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton November Mixed sale, Flint loved the steady class the daughter of Giant Gizmo had displayed in her 13 starts to that point, earning four stakes wins and more than $500,000 for previous owner-trainer John Ross.
What she hadn’t done to that point was ever run on dirt. After giving her a nearly five-month freshening, Flint send the dark bay mare out to a fourth-place finish in the Esplanade Overnight Stakes over a sloppy track at Fair Grounds March 18. He then watched her get fully cranked up on the worktab in preparation for the biggest victory of her career.
“You know this filly was a wonderful filly without this. She had won over half a million, had never run in a maiden race, never run in an allowance race,” Flint said. “I worked on her and Dr. Chowhan ….he gave me the time, let me do what I wanted to do and these are the results.
“He listened to every word I said and thank God for him. I don’t have many like him. When you get old, they go to the young hotshots but in this case the old dog came through.”
Flint’s faith in Brooklynsway was realized as she delivered a classic stalk-and-pounce run under jockey Robby Albarado. After sitting second off pacesetter White Clover through fractions of 23.80 and 47.61, Albarado let Brooklynsway roll up around the far turn to take control of the eight-horse field and then kicked away from I’m a Chatterbox and Ahh Chocolate to hit the wire 1¼ lengths in front.
“Bernie gave me one instruction, and it was very instrumental. (He said) ‘You’ve got to get away running.’,” Albarado said. “Circumstances dictated that, being in the one hole that I get her away running into the first turn. I’d ridden her before (in the Esplanade Stakes)….and she got tired. I thought she might have needed the race. Bernie did an exceptional job of getting her here today, and she ran extremely well.”
Final time for the race was 1:42.86 over a fast track.
Back in Dixie’s tragic breakdown made her the third horse to been vanned off on Friday’s card. Ian Wilkes-trainee Pristine Sistine was pulled up in the first race with a career-ending condylar fracture in a front leg and was taken to Hagyard Equine Medical Center to have surgery Saturday morning.
Jockey Jesus Castanon was transported to UK Chandler Hospital with an upper back injury and possible rib fracture after he was thrown to the track when his mount Spikechevious took a bad step and fell in the stretch of the fifth race. Spikechevious, a 3-year-old gelded son of Into Mischief trained by Mary Lightner, was vanned back to the barn for precaution but was reported to have no major injury.
Owned by Delvin Heldermon and Clayton C. Jack, Back in Dixie had won seven of 14 prior lifetime starts and had been guided by Hill in her final three outings.
“She traveled down the backside really well,” Hill said of his mount. “About maybe 70 yards before the quarter pole, maybe a little after, it really felt like someone grabbed me, like grabbed my hind end because she kind of stumbled. By the third step I knew…the bone separate. She just showed her class by keeping herself up.
“This is absolutely heartbreaking. This is a filly Ingrid had done a tremendous job with. She’s been super sound, just a thrill to ride. You don’t get too many classy mares that are this nice. This is the worst part about the game, especially the horses that give you everything.”