Little was said about Sailor’s Valentine in the run-up to Saturday’s 80th running of the Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. The grey filly had hit the board only three times in her five-race career and finished fifth in her last stakes appearance.
But her lone win came at Keeneland in her debut and her connections knew she liked running here. At odds of 22-1, nearly the longest shot in the field, she not only earned her first Grade 1 stakes win Saturday, she also assured a spot in next month’s Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
“She won here in October very impressively (a 7-furlong maiden by 3 ¼ lengths),” trainer Eddie Kenneally said. “She came back here in late March and had a really good work over the track. We just decided we’d take a shot in the Ashland — mainly because she loves this track — and this is a very, very good track.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie and Daddys Lil Darling broke well out of the No. 7 post and settled quickly behind frontrunner Someday Soon as they headed into the first turn. The two set an easy pace down the backstretch with even-money favorite Elate and co-second choice Pretty City Dancer tucked in close behind.
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Someday Soon continued to lead the pack into the stretch, but as Sailor’s Valentine pulled alongside in the final furlong, the two horses appeared to bump slightly. Lanerie’s charge took the nudge in stride and pulled out by a length.
“I hadn’t been on her (in awhile),” Lanerie said. “Coming into the race, (Kenneally) said, ‘She’s doing phenomenal. I look for her to run a big race. She’s going maybe to be a long shot, but she’s not going to run like one.’
“He was right.”
Someday Soon, also a long shot at 22-1, tried to lead the 1 1/16 -mile test wire-to-wire, but slowed down the stretch. Jockey Jose Lezcano held her together for third.
“I had a very good trip,” Lezcano said. She broke right on top, and when I asked she gave me her best. She tried hard. She did everything right.”
Charging late for second came Daddys Lil Darling, the co-third choice at 5-1, but jockey Robby Albarado would have preferred a faster pace.
“I feel like the further (the distance) the better with her. She’s a nice filly,” Albarado said.
Trainer Kenny McPeek said Albarado ran a great race and he looked forward to trying her out at the longer Oaks.
“He just couldn’t run them down,” McPeek said of Albarado. “He said if the (race were a bit longer) he probably wins by 2 (lengths). But we’re pleased. This is about where we wanted to be. Of course you want to win, but she’s a special filly. I’m sure she’ll go to the Kentucky Oaks — no doubt.”
Daddys Lil Darlin, who’d already accumulated 20 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series, got another 20 on Saturday. The win gave Sailor’s Valentine 100 points, placing her among the May race’s top contenders. Kenneally said his filly would certainly make a go of it at Churchill Downs if she comes out of this race well in the next few days. Someday Soon got 20 points for third, and trainer Will VanMeter said he might take a shot at the Oaks if she is eligible.
Sailor’s Valentine paid $46.40 for first, Daddys Lil Darlin, $6.60 for second and Someday Soon, $9.80 for third. That made for a $4,028.40 trifecta, the largest of the day.
Elate, the even-money favorite at post time, fell off the pace in the final turn and was pulled up in the stretch by jockey Jose L. Ortiz. The Claiborne Farms filly was vanned off as a precaution, but Keeneland officials said she did not suffer a serious injury.