John Sikura is no stranger to having the efforts of his farm celebrated at the highest level at Keeneland.
The owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farm has long been one of the leading consignors in the Thoroughbred marketplace, regularly sending seven-figure offerings through the ring — including several products of the elite broodmare band he has cultivated over the years.
On Sunday, with his sons and wife by his side, Sikura watched Got Lucky, a filly he bred and raised, prevail in the Grade I, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Instead of just walking over to congratulate a buyer, he headed to the winner's circle celebration to relish the reward for staying committed to quality.
Four years ago, Sikura and partner Philip Steinberg made the decision not to offer Got Lucky for auction, keeping her to race instead.
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When the daughter of A.P. Indy unleashed a monster kick in the deep stretch, she topped past champion Untapable and longshot Yahilwa by a neck at the wire in the 11⁄8-mile race. That earned her a spot in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland on Oct. 30.
"The Grade Ones I win are usually in the sales ring," an emotional Sikura said. "Now I know the allure of people that buy yearlings — why they do it, to have a thrill like this."
It doesn't get a whole lot more heart-stopping than what Got Lucky pulled off in the Spinster: rating next-to-last in the nine-horse field much of the way, and then having the 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner and reigning Breeders' Cup Distaff champ Untapable as one of the last obstacles to overcome.
But it was nothing compared to the chance Sikura and Steinberg took in 2010 when they repeatedly sent a Deputy Minister mare by the name of Malka to Lane's End, hoping to get her in foal to legendary sire A.P. Indy in the waning stages of his fertility.
Of the 80 mares A.P. Indy was bred to during his final season at stud, 36 live foals were produced. One was the dark bay filly that has now scored her first Grade I win in 16 career starts and given Sikura his first Grade I win as an owner at Keeneland.
"A lot of patience went into this filly," Sikura said. "She's a filly that was born and raised at the farm, and we bred the dam to A.P. Indy I think five times that year. That's how she got the name Got Lucky. My partner Phil said, 'You think we should quit?' and I said, 'No, we're going to go to the end. We've come this far, we'll take our chances.'
"Unfortunately the mare (Malka) died of a very rare cancer. It's a great reward to have a filly like this. When you raise them it's even more emotional because you're there from the beginning."
Though Got Lucky was sent off at odds of 7-to-2 and was coming off a good second-place finish in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Aug. 29, all eyes were on the two Kentucky Oaks winners in the field: Lovely Maria and Untapable.
Breaking out of post No. 1, Lovely Maria was gunned to the front under jockey Kerwin Clark but found herself quickly pressed by 20-to-1 shot Yahilwa as the two cut through opening fractions of 23.62 and 46.89.
"We weren't wanting to be going that fast, but in the No. 1 hole we didn't have a lot of choice except to get out there," trainer Larry Jones said of Lovely Maria, who faded to fifth.
When Lovely Maria backed out coming off the final turn, Untapable was there three wide to challenge Yahilwa, who refused to yield to the reigning 3-year-old filly champion. As those two slugged it out stride for stride the length of the stretch, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. angled Got Lucky out after advancing on an inside path and got a determined response to his right-handed urging, catching Untapable when that one finally put her head in front of Yahilwa.
"Where I was in the grandstand — I was right at the eighth pole — I thought she had a lot to do, but I could tell she was coming," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Got Lucky. "I was just hoping she got there in time."
While Got Lucky is now booked for a Breeders' Cup outing, Untapable trainer Steve Asmussen said discussion would take place before deciding if she would attempt to defend her crown in the race after now suffering her fourth-straight loss.
"She's a good mare that's not running her best races," Asmussen said. "She ran well, but that's not her best."