Rusty Arnold would have taken third.
The veteran Kentucky-based trainer knew he was asking the monumental out of his charge Weep No More in Saturday’s Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes, facing the three sophomore fillies many considered the best this season outside of champion Songbird.
He would have heartily celebrated alongside longtime client Glenn Bromagen if the daughter of Mineshaft had simply hit the board in the five-horse field. But there is a reason they run these races on the track instead of in the form.
And as the battle most expected was beginning to play out, Weep No More rewrote the script with a late-race surge even her faithful weren’t quite expecting.
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“We thought she would make a run,” Arnold grinned. “Did we think she was going to get there? I can’t say that.”
What Weep No More got herself was a spot in the field for the Kentucky Oaks on May 6 as the 30-to-1 shot came with a monster rally in deep stretch to run by Grade I winner Rachel’s Valentina and previously unbeaten Cathryn Sophia to win the $500,000 Ashland Stakes by a neck.
The presence of Cathryn Sophia, Rachel’s Valentina and graded stakes winner Carina Mia is the reason why only two other 3-year-old fillies passed the entry box for the 1 1/16-miles test. Cathryn Sophia specifically had a combined winning margin of 41 1/2 lengths in her four previous starts, but was hooking by far the toughest competition of her young career.
Owned by Bromagen’s Ashbrook Farm — located about a mile away from Keeneland — Weep No More had been pointed to this spot by Arnold for the past two months. The chestnut filly won her first two starts this year, including the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 13. Despite the quality of competition Weep No More faced in her graded stakes debut, Arnold stuck to the plan of taking a swing, then fought back emotions after watching his girl give her owners their first Grade I win since Wicked Style took the 2007 Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
“(Bromagen) has been an owner for 30 something years and ... this is really nice,” Arnold said. “At the half mile pole, I told my wife, ‘We’re going to be third, this filly is running.’ If you would have given me third at that point, I would have been thrilled. I don’t think I was that confident, but she had won two races ... and we were just going to come here and run.
“We stuck our head down and said, ‘This is where we’re going. I said this morning I thought we could be third with a big run because I thought these fillies were going to fight it out.”
Arnold had the latter part right.
Carina Mia lead a three-horse procession down the backside through a half in 47.24 as Rachel’s Valentina rated three-wide in second with Cathryn Sophia saving ground inside.
Coming off the final turn, that trio were three abreast across the track with Cathyrn Sophia tipping to the outside and locking horns with Rachel’s Valentina in a stretch battle. Though she was more than 7 lengths out of it at one point in the stretch, Weep No More emerged in the last dozen strides with a stunning outside rally en route to hitting the wire in 1:43.57 over a fast track.
“At the top of the lane, to be honest, I didn’t think I would get up,” jockey Corey Lanerie said. “I was rolling, I had a lot of horse, but with the short stretch, I was hoping to be third. Then about 70 yards from the wire, I was like, ‘C’mon baby — we can get it’.”
Rachel’s Valentina, who was making her first start since running second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland last October, got up by a neck over Cathryn Sophia for second and will likely go on to the Kentucky Oaks.
“It was a huge effort, she ran enormous,” said John Moynihan, bloodstock advisor for Stonestreet Stables, which owns Rachel’s Valentina. “She got in a head-to-head battle with the other filly and when the other filly passed her, she came back strong and that other filly just nipped us at the wire.”
Cathryn Sophia was making her first start around two turns and trainer John Servis said a return to shorter distances may be in order.
“Obviously disappointed. I just wonder if maybe two turns is a little too far for her,” Servis said. “That’s what it looked like she made a nice move on the turn…and when (jockey) Javier (Castellano) set her down in the lane she just kind of hung. We may have to shorten her back up a little bit.”