LOUISVILLE — To his dismay, doctor's orders forced WinStar Farm owner Kenny Troutt to miss one of his operation's most thrilling victories earlier this month.
But thanks to the efforts of his bay colt Gemologist in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Saturday, Troutt not only got to enjoy a belated celebration in the Churchill Downs winner's circle, but he and his team have reason to think there might be another WinStar gathering taking place there this May.
Three weeks after WinStar's Drosselmeyer captured the Breeders' Cup Classic beneath the Twin Spires, Gemologist added to the farm's year-end hot streak when he outfought 8-to-5 favorite Ever So Lucky in a stretch battle to win by 13/4 lengths in the $178,200 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes — the headline event of Churchill's juveniles-only Stars of Tomorrow II card, which also featured the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes for fillies.
Anytime a good 2-year-old comes into WinStar's care, comparisons are going to be made to the farm's homebred 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who captured the 2009 edition of the Kentucky Jockey Club to put himself on the map.
With three victories in as many career starts, including two triumphs now over the Churchill main track, Gemologist may actually have more raw ability than his classic-winning predecessor.
"Well he's won more races than (Super Saver) had at this point," said Troutt, who missed the Breeders' Cup after minor surgery prevented him from flying. "Super Saver was a horse who was always on the radar but he got really good right at the end. This horse here has been special since the day we got him."
Trained by Todd Pletcher, who also conditioned Super Saver, Gemologist had a relatively easy time in winning his first two career starts by a combined seven lengths, both of them coming in front-running fashion.
During his 11⁄16-mile outing in the Kentucky Jockey Club, the handsome bay son of Tiznow proved he could handle himself in a dogfight.
After Ever So Lucky led the 11-horse field through an opening quarter in :23.98, longshot Seve ranged up to take over down the backstretch as he reached the half in :47.49.
With Javier Castellano up, 3-to-1 shot Gemologist sat a perfect stalking trip in third and showed great mettle when he engaged Ever So Lucky around the final turn and dug in over the final few furlongs.
"I liked the way he settled," said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm. "It kind of felt like he naturally had the lead in his first starts because of talent and today there were some faster horses in there. We beat a very nice horse in (Ever So Lucky) so there is a lot to look forward to. Each race with this horse has built on itself."
Purchased as a weanling for $310,000 at the 2009 Keeneland November sale, Gemologist covered the distance in 1:44.46 over a fast track. Ever So Lucky, who was making just his second career start, was a neck in front of Timely Tally for second.
"I was very proud of him," said Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of Ever So Lucky. "He put up a brave fight. It was only in the closing sixteenth that he gradually gave way."
The only issue trainer Gary "Red Dog" Hartlage had after On Fire Baby's 61/4-length victory in the $169,350 Golden Rod was fitting all his friends and family into the winner's circle.
On Fire Baby, who won the Grade II Pocahontas from off the pace at Churchill on October 30, led every point of call in the 11⁄16-mile Golden Rod and had plenty in reserve after getting away with an opening half in :50.01.
The daughter of Smoke Glacken has now won three of four career starts with her only loss coming at the hands of eventual Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Stephanie's Kitten in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland on Oct. 7.
"She's that good," Hartlage said. "In my opinion she's maybe top 3 in the country as far as 2-year-old fillies. I'm sure we'll nominate to the Kentucky Oaks and Derby, we'll see. I ain't never seen one like this. This filly does things you wouldn't dream about."
Owned and bred by Anita Cauley, On Fire Baby covered the distance in 1:45.98 with longshot Goldrush Girl second.
Wise Dan had an easy morning Saturday after his impressive 3¾-length victory in Churchill Downs' $572,500 Clark Handicap on Friday. The 4-year-old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry walked the shedrow and then grazed for an hour outside of trainer Charlie Lopresti's barn at Keeneland.
"He came out of the race in perfect shape," Lopresti said. "He's 100 percent."
The Clark Handicap victory capped a phenomenal year for Wise Dan, who recorded stakes victories on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. Lopresti said Wise Dan would now get some well-deserved time off.
"We'll let him wind down (at Keeneland) and then take him to our farm in Lexington," Lopresti said. "He'll have the whole month of December off and some of January and then we'll start getting him ready for a 5-year-old campaign."
Special to the Herald-Leader