Grand Arch wouldn't go away. Not only that, the 6-year-old gelding kept getting a little more persistent and that much better with each passing year.
In the 22 starts the bay son of Arch had made heading into Saturday's Grade I, $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, Grand Arch had kept knocking on the door of top level achievement only to have it slammed in his face.
A handful of strides before the wire, it looked as though another established Grade I winner was going to rob the old boy of his moment again. Instead, Grand Arch held his ground and came through with his long awaited breakout victory, holding off Arlington Million winner The Pizza Man by a head to take the Shadwell and book himself a return spot in this year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
The winner's circle hugs that erupted between trainer Brian Lynch and owners Jim and Susan Hill were, to put it mildly, a long time coming on Grand Arch's behalf. It took the bay gelding 14 starts before he earned his first graded stakes win, that coming in the Grade II King Edward Stakes at Woodbine last June 22.
He was second in last year's Shadwell, beaten a length by two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, but didn't notch another stakes win until his neck victory over Ironicus in the Grade II Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 15.
"He's been a horse that gives it his all every time we lead him over here and it's great to see him as he's gotten older just keep developing and getting older," Lynch said. "He just keeps getting better and better. The Hills have been patient, we turn him out in the winter, and old geldings like that if they can stay healthy, they can stay competitive for a good while."
Grand Arch ran 11th in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. Considering how he took to the yielding Keeneland turf course Saturday and how wide open that division is now given Wise Dan's retirement, it's not unrealistic to envision the newly minted Shadwell king pulling off a similar run later this month.
With Luis Saez up Saturday, Grand Arch had a ground-saving trip tracking along the rail in fourth as Kelinni cut fractions of 23.91 and 48.00 on the front end.
Grand Arch overtook a tiring Kelinni in the stretch and briefly looked to be drawing clear, only to hold off a late run from Tourist on his inside and The Pizza Man flying with his trademark kick on the outside.
"It's nice to have the Breeders' Cup here this year and not have to ship him," Lynch said. "He's a horse who can get stirred up."
Final time for the one mile distance was 1:37.45. The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of multiple graded stakes winner Skyring, who went wrong on the backstretch.
Jockey Corey Lanerie caught sight of himself and his mount on the screen before the Grade I, $500,000 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity. It only solidified his confidence in the end result that was to come less than two minutes later.
"He looked so classy," Lanerie said of bay son of Giant's Causeway named Brody's Cause. "I looked at him on the screen and was like 'Man, this horse here."
Brody's Cause will give a lot more eyes a shot to look at him come Oct. 31 as he earned himself a place in the field for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile courtesy of a 1-length win over Exaggerator in the 11⁄16-mile Breeders' Futurity.
Trained by Dale Romans, Brody's Cause was dismissed at odds of 11-to-1 in the 11-horse field despite coming off a maiden win going 1 mile at Churchill Downs on Sept. 11.
Lanerie, who was riding the colt for the first time, showed great confidence and patience as he rated Brody's Cause in 10th through an opening half in 47.33. He then found himself searching for more goggles over the muddy surface and mentally celebrating as the colt began ticking off foes around the final turn.
"He was like driving a car today," Lanerie said. "Dale told me 'You get him clear and he's going to win'. At the turn when I took him outside, I was about out of goggles and he hit a gear for me. I said 'I've got them'."
Exaggerator, the 2-to-1 favorite, looked on his way to victory before Brody's Cause came with his explosive kick to hit the wire in 1:43.27.
"He's a horse where everything I've done with him, I've had to show it to him once and he got it," Romans said. "That race at Ellis (an eighth- place run in his debut on the grass on Aug. 1) was so bad but he learned a lot from it."
Thoroughbred Club of America
Jockey Sophie Doyle and trainer Anthony Hamilton Jr. both celebrated the first graded stakes wins of their careers when Fioretti held off a late run by Heykittykittykitty to win the Grade II, $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes.
The 5-year-old Fioretti also earned her first graded stakes score in 22 career starts as well as a likely run in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland on October 31.
Fioretti stalked the pace in fifth, then third, through an opening half of 45.56 in the six furlong test before surging up on the outside en route to hitting the wire three quarters a length in front. Final time for the distance was 1:10.04.
In and off-the-turf edition of the Woodford Stakes, Amelia's Wild Ride led every point of call to capture the 51/2-furlong race by 21/2 lengths.
The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of Shore Runner in the stretch. Because the Woodford was taken off the turf, it automatically loses its Grade III status pending review from the Graded Stakes Committee.