Another day at Keeneland, another big win for Rushing Fall.
The 3-year-old filly lived up to her billing, repelling two late charges to win Saturday’s marquee race, the $500,000, Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. She adds the win to an already impressive resume that includes a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November.
Rushing Fall was the heavy favorite in the Queen Elizabeth, going off at 1-2 odds. Breaking from the far outside stall, she took the lead before the first turn and settled in near the rail.
In the stretch, second-place finisher Mission Impassible twice gained ground and appeared to be on the verge of taking the lead. But Rushing Fall responded both times and pulled away in the closing seconds.
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Jockey Javier Castellano had to get his mount back on track when the runner-up made her move.
“I had a little concern. (Rushing Fall) was looking around a little bit to the grandstand,” Castellano said. “I asked her a little bit, and she responded. She put it back together, and the way she finished was really impressive.”
After the race, Florent Geroux, who rode Mission Impassible, had to tip his cap to the victor.
“I had a great trip. She (Mission Impassible) was nice and relaxed. I thought for a minute that I was going to win it. Turning for home, I came head to head with Rushing Fall, but she was just the best at the end. My filly couldn’t quite get the distance. Rushing Fall is a really nice filly, one of the top three in the country, so no shame in getting beat by her.”
Trained by Chad Brown, Rushing Fall covered the 1 1/8-mile turf course in 1:50.42. It was her third win in three starts at Keeneland and her sixth overall in seven tries. She’s only been beaten once in her career, in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs in May, where she was overtaken late by Toinette and finished second.
In Saturday’s third race, 8-5 favorite Copper Town was clearly the class of the field. The 4-year-old colt trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano was still drawing away from the pack as he crossed the finish line.
Copper Town’s performance wasn’t just impressive relative to the other horses in the race. His time of 1:51.91 was the fastest 6 1/2-furlong run on Keeneland’s dirt track this year, including the entire Spring Meet.
Since Keeneland switched back to a dirt track in fall of 2014 after eight years with a synthetic surface, 105 races have been run on the dirt at 6 1/2 furlongs. Copper Town’s time on Saturday was the ninth-fastest among those races.
Big Blue royalty at the track
Local broadcasting legend Tom Hammond has long been a fixture in the Keeneland press box on race day. On Saturday, the NBC Sports announcer had a guest.
Hammond was joined at his customary spot near the press box window by longtime friend Larry Conley, the famed University of Kentucky guard who led “Rupp’s Runts” to the 1966 NCAA championship game which they lost to Texas Western. Conley currently broadcasts college basketball for Fox Sports, but he spent Saturday afternoon taking in the racing action with Hammond, though the pair frequently flipped the TV at their table from the Keeneland video feed to college football games.
Crowd braves the cold
Despite the jarring switch to frigid weather in Central Kentucky over the weekend, Keeneland’s Saturday crowd was massive again.
Given the combination of temperatures that hovered in the high 40s and President Donald Trump’s scheduled rally at Eastern Kentucky University with U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, one might have expected a dip in attendance. But 23,872 spectators showed up for the second Saturday of the Fall Meet, just 270 fewer than last weekend’s crowd.
Air Force One
Moments after Rushing Fall’s win in the Queen Elizabeth, fans who weren’t heading for the exits began aiming their cell phones at Bluegrass Airport, taking photos and videos of a plane in the distance.
Air Force One could be seen rolling to its eventual parking spot, where Trump joined his motorcade and headed to the rally in Richmond.
A look at the leaders
The conclusion of Friday’s race card marked the end of the first week of Keeneland’s Fall Meet. With that in mind, here’s a look at the jockeys and trainers who are cleaning up so far.
Jose Ortiz is the leader among jockeys when it comes to hitting the podium. In 32 starts over the first six days of racing, Ortiz has piled up five wins, six places and four shows.
The 25-year-old reigning Eclipse winner for Outstanding Jockey has reeled in $426,116 in purses, second-most of the meet.
Julien Leparoux has also made five trips to the winner’s circle in 32 starts. He’s finished second twice, third three times and banked $332,927 in winnings.
Tyler Gaffalione has earned the most prize money by a wide margin, bringing in $749,465. His haul was bolstered by a big upset in last Saturday’s $1 million Shadwell Turf Stakes, in which he steered 23-1 long shot Next Shares to victory.
Todd Pletcher leads the way among trainers with five wins, two places and one show in 13 starts. Mike Maker ranks second with three victories, two second-place and three third-place finishes in 22 starts.
FALL MEET LEADERS
(Through Oct. 12)