Having been aboard Daisy Devine for the brunt of her career starts, jockey James Graham is well-versed with the idiosyncrasies that have become the 5-year-old mare’s calling card.
The same mare who stands like a cow-pony while letting Graham’s kids feed her mints can also snap out for no reason during a routine gallop in the mornings. And just because the human eye doesn’t see anything of consequence hiding in the hedges doesn’t mean the daughter of Kafwain isn’t going to make a sudden move away from whatever she thinks might be lingering about.
“She needs to be Daisy” Graham explained. “Because if Daisy’s happy, everybody’s happy.”
For those unacquainted with what a happy Daisy Devine looks like, a quick glance at her past performances says it usually takes on the form of a bay blur going to the front and staying there until the finish line. Such an effort allowed the Andrew McKeever trainee to roll to a one-length win in last year’s Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, a feat she will attempt to duplicate when she attempts to defend her title in the 1 1/16-miles turf race this Saturday.
In 18 career starts to date, the front-running Daisy Devine has left her connections beyond thrilled with victories on 10 of those occasions while finishing off the board just four times. Her gate-to-wire effort in the 2012 Jenny Wiley over the likes of fellow Grade I winners Tapitsfly, Aruna and eventual champion turf female Zagora showed why she is deserving of the time and patience she has commanded.
“She’s something different, I know that,” said Graham, who has ridden Daisy Devine in 13 of her starts. “She was a little difficult early on in her career. But after her first race, the light started to come on, and she took a step forward every time she was working down in New Orleans and she seemed to excel down there.
“My kids have fed her peppermints. But on the track you could be galloping by the eighth pole in the mornings and she’ll just (snaps) sideways. Galloping to the pole one morning in New Orleansthere was nothing in the infield. Nothing. And she went probably six paths out in two jumps. But that’s her. If she’s not doing that, there’s something wrong. But in a race, you can do anything you want with her.”
After following her breakout win in the Jenny Wiley with a fifth place run in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes, Daisy Devine was given some time off and didn’t resurface until October where she was second to Tapitsfly in the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland. The end of her 2012 season was as powerful as her start was, winning the Grade III Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs in November and taking the Blushing K. D. Handicap at Fair Grounds on December 22.
James Miller’s mare opened her 2013 campaign with a victory in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds but her last outing forced her to adjust when Bayou Handicap on February 23 was taken off the Fair Grounds turf. Running over a dirt surface that is not her preferred ground, Daisy Devine was still beaten just a head by Snuggs and Kisses that day.
“I still don’t think that she’s a horse that just has to run on the grass, I think she handles the dirt just as well,” Graham said. “The last day she ran she was giving the winner, she carried 126, the winner carried (115). Even good horses can’t give decent horses that.”
Among the probables Daisy Devine is expected to face as she attempts to join champion Intercontinental (2004-05) as the only runner to win the Jenny Wiley in consecutive years are Abaco, Ausus, Better Lucky, Centre Court, Hard Not to Like, Old Tune, Quiet Oasis, and Samitar.
“She’s her,” Graham said. “She got bigger and stronger, she seems to be happy.”And when Daisy Devine is happy, that often spells trouble for others.
Read more on Alicia Wincze Hughes' horse racing blog