The less-is-more approach continues to yield successful returns for Free as a Bird.
Since determining Free as a Bird performs better at shorter distances, post-race celebrations have become the norm for her trainer, Ian Wilkes. Even amid Friday's deluge of rain, Wilkes was glad to get a little soaked for the sake of accepting accolades after the 5-year-old daughter of Hard Spun rallied to a 11/2-length win in the $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes over a yielding Keeneland turf.
Since Free as a Bird finished seventh going 11⁄8 miles at Saratoga in August 2013, Wilkes has kept her to 7 furlongs or less in her last nine starts, six of which have now been victories.
In the 51/2-furlong Franklin County, Free as a Bird rated fifth under Joel Rosario through fractions of :21.55 and :45.10, swinging out five wide in the stretch and finishing clear of race favorite Ageless, who was 1 length in front of Sweet Cassiopeia in third.
"You look back at her races last year and she was just a little too strong in front, a little too rank and wouldn't relax enough," Wilkes said. "In the shorter races there is enough speed in front of her and she relaxes.
"I was very confident with her today because she looked like she was getting over the ground good. And I knew she was going to come home."
Owned and bred by Elizabeth Valando, Free as a Bird covered the distance in 1:03.60 while improving her record to eight wins from 21 starts with $503,208 in earnings.
While fillies and mares have done well in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Wilkes didn't think he would send the chestnut mare on to Santa Anita Park for the event.
"Probably not, I'll talk to Ms. Valando but I doubt it," Wilkes said. "It's against the boys and I don't know if we want to do that. It's a different kind of race.
"But what a nice position to be in. She could breed her if the filly is sound, she could run her again next year. It's not very often you are in the position where you have a choice."