It was a redemption run at Keeneland in Friday's feature race as graded stakes winner Ageless overcame an in-race injury to unleash a determined run late, edging favorite Lady Shipman by a head in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes.
After placing second in last year's Franklin County, the 6-year-old mare accelerated in the deep stretch to take home the winner's share of the $100,000 purse.
Excitement over her 11th career win quickly gave way to concern, however, as Ageless emerged from the race with a severe gash on her left hind leg just below the hock.
Ageless was vanned back to the barn following the winner's circle presentation and later taken to a clinic for further treatment.
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Free as a Bird appeared to run up on Ageless and clip heels with her as they raced along the hedge on the backstretch, the likely cause of the injury.
"Shows you how much heart she's got, for sure," said jockey Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard Ageless for her last eight starts.
Breaking from post position five in the eight-horse field, Ageless raced along unhurried under Leparoux, tracking along in fifth on the rail through an opening quarter at 21.56. She made her way into the six path at the final turn, then advanced on the inside of Lady Shipman en route to hitting the wire in 1:03.66 over a course rated firm.
"I thought we were going to be second, and I was content with that," said Arnaud Delacour, her trainer.
Ageless came into the 51/2 furlong Franklin County off a victory in the Grade III Royal North Stakes at Woodbine on July 26. After finishing second in last year's Franklin County, she came within three quarters of a length of winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last November, finishing fourth behind race winner Bobby's Kitten.
Though a return trip to that race was a possibility pending a good outcome in the Franklin County, the daughter of Successful Appeal will in all likelihood be sidelined for the immediate future given the nature of her injury.
Runner-up Lady Shipman was also under consideration to run against males for the first time in this year's Turf Sprint, but trainer Kathleen O'Connell was noncommittal about her plans.
"I don't know what we'll do. We take it one day at a time," O'Connell said.