As she walked across the Keeneland Polytrack and attempted to catch her breath, Kelly Colliver kept apologizing for the swell of emotion that occasionally cut off her words.
And for the next several minutes, Colliver repeatedly tried to describe the depth of the significance behind Dream Empress's victory in Friday's Grade I Darley Alcibiades Stakes.
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But for all the adjectives Colliver could come up to explain what her and her partners in the Livin the Dream Racing syndicate were feeling at the moment, the cries of jubilation that rung out around her summed up the situation perfectly.
When Dream Empress drew off in the lane for a 41/4-length victory in the $500,000 Alcibiades, she set off one of the most memorable — and largest—- winner's circle scenes in Keeneland history.
A year ago, her owners — a 20-person, 40-share syndicate of friends and family aptly named Livin the Dream Racing — pooled together $60,000 to give to trainer Kenny McPeek in hopes he would purchase a horse with enough ability to simply make it to the track and let them indulge in their favorite hobby.
On Friday, the horse McPeek picked out surpassed even the best scenario the group could have dreamed up when she rallied from off the pace to collar Be Smart in midstretch and earn a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 24.
"People throw statistics out there a lot about how hard it is to get a horse to a race, how hard it is to even win a race, so there really are no words to say how I feel right now," said Colliver, a real estate appraiser that helped put the syndicate together. "It's just a dream, I'm running out of words. It is family and friends and... we didn't want it to be stressful or expensive. We wanted it to be fun. That's why there is so many of us. We don't have the big budget to own horses individually so by spreading the inherit risk, it minimized the cost."
McPeek selected Dream Empress at the 2007 Keene-land September yearling sale, using the entire $60,000 budget to claim the daughter of Bernstein.
While she had made her previous two starts on turf, the bay filly showed she merited a chance to take on higher company after breaking her maiden by a nose at Saratoga on Aug. 22, winning over the same 11⁄16-mile distance the Alcibiades was contested over.
"Life's about opportunity and they gave me a chance and I tried to find them the best horse," McPeek said of the overjoyed syndicate. "We expected her to run well, hoping for third or better. We didn't know how she'd handle the Polytrack. But she's all class, a lovely filly."
That determined kick Dream Empress unleashed down the middle of the track helped her cross the wire in 1:43.82.
Be Smart, who pressed pacesetter and favorite Mani Bhavan all down the backside, held for second with Devotee coming up for third.
Mani Bhavan, who came into the race unbeaten in three starts, tired badly in her first trip around two turns and was last in the field of seven.
The Livin the Dream Racing group might want to seek out trainer Jonathan Sheppard if they are looking for a celebratory beverage.
Sheppard saddled Forever Together to a stirring 11/2-length victory in the Grade I, $400,000 First Lady Stakes over a mile on the turf earlier on the card as the 4-year-old filly came from behind to catch the front-running Precious Kitten in midstretch, hitting the wire in 1:35.00.
Forever Together has been a new filly since switching from dirt to turf this year, winning three of her last five starts including the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 26.
While Sheppard attributes her improved form to a growing maturity, owner George Strawbridge has another theory behind Forever Together's recent success.
"What Jonathan was very good at is teaching her to relax because she was having major problems where she wouldn't sweat. But thanks to Guinness Stout, she's now sweating," Strawbridge said. "We put it in her mash. She loves the taste and therefore she eats the food because before that she wasn't eating as well. She has moved up on the grass, but that's the main change."
Strawbridge said Forever Together would likely be headed to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and could remain in training for her 5-year-old season.
"I think she'll have to as long as we don't run out of Guinness," Strawbridge joked.