The most prolific figure at Keeneland in 2011 was veteran trainer Ken McPeek, who racked up 24 wins to take the fall and spring meet crowns at the Lexington track.
One of the few things that eluded McPeek was a trip to the winner's circle after a Grade I race. On Saturday, he has an opportunity to do that when he saddles Goldrush Girl in the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes.
The overwhelming 8-5 pick in the 11⁄16-mile Ashland is Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Stephanie's Kitten, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November. But McPeek hopes the daughter of Kitten's Joy could be vulnerable to an upset because she's making her first start since that victory.
Goldrush Girl, second in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs last November, has two wins in six career starts with both triumphs coming at distances beyond a mile. The daughter of Political Force broke her maiden going 11⁄8 miles at Keeneland on Oct. 29 and most recently scored a neck victory in a 11⁄16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on March 22.
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"She won here, and her last race was a good race," said McPeek, who won the Ashland in 2002 with Take Charge Lady. "It's just time to try her at another level. The timing's good. The distance is good."
Goldrush Girl (8-1) will break from post No. 5 Saturday under jockey Manoel Cruz.
In addition to Stephanie's Kitten, another filly making her season debut in the Ashland is Hard Not to Like. The gray daughter of Hard Spun was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at odds of 20-1 and won three of four starts over Woodbine's Polytrack surface last season.
"We planned to give her a break (after the Breeders' Cup) as there are a lot of races for her this year," said trainer Gail Cox, who had the filly at Payson Park in Florida this winter. "We wanted to run here. It is difficult to find a prep for a race like this because they are all so tough. She has done very well, filled out nicely and mentally is very good."