Blinkers work magic for Camelot Kitten in American Turf
Overlooked at 18-1 on the tote board, Camelot Kitten was reserved off a pace that ended up being faster than most observers expected. An even bigger plot twist was that Airoforce, the 2-1 favorite, was the one bounding out through fractions of :23.27 and :46.51. Shakhimat, who would have been the more logical pacesetter, now found himself chasing the leader.
As they hit the six-furlong mark in 1:10.63 and rounded the far turn, Shakhimat appeared to be traveling the better of the two. But the early Queen’s Plate favorite was himself feeling the effects of their early exertions, and after challenging at the head of the lane, retreated.
Meanwhile, Beach Patrol angled out to emerge a threat and struck the front in midstretch. But Camelot Kitten was taking the shortest way through on the inside. Expertly handled by Irad Ortiz Jr., he kept finding more in deep stretch to join, and finally outduel, Beach Patrol by a head. He stopped the clock in 1:41.13 for 1 1/16 miles on a firm course and rewarded his loyalists with a $39.40 win payout.
Surgical Strike rallied from farther back to take third, a further 2 1/4 lengths adrift. Airoforce crossed the wire in fourth, and Shakhimat was a disappointing ninth of 13.
Camelot Kitten became the third son of Kitten’s Joy to win this race, following ill-fated Banned (2011) and last year’s Divisidero (who runs later on the card in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic [G1]). A debut maiden winner at Belmont in September, Camelot Kitten flubbed the start next time in the Bourbon (G3), but recovered to finish an eye-catching second to Airoforce. He threw in a clunker over the same Keeneland course in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and headed into winter quarters thereafter.
The bay colt resumed with a second in an April 13 Keeneland allowance, where he deferred to the winner. That suggested he wasn’t giving quite all he had, and blinkers were prescribed. We saw a much more focused and resolute Camelot Kitten today. With this breakthrough to his credit, he’s earned $278,520 from his 5-2-2-0 line.
Quotes from Churchill Downs
Irad Ortiz Jr. (rider of Camelot Kitten, winner) – “He brought his race today. He fought back with that other horse (Beach Patrol). The trainer had him ready. He saw that horse and he fought with him.”
Chad Brown (trainer of Camelot Kitten, winner) – “He (Irad Ortiz, Jr.) worked out a really good trip from that post position and we made the equipment change and put blinkers on the horse. He’s a horse that always had trained really well like a top-level stake horse and then in the afternoons I felt like we weren’t really getting everything out of him. We tried to put the blinkers on him, he worked really big here at Churchill last week and combined with Irad’s great ride it made the difference.”
Q: On time off following the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (12th)
“He didn’t fire that day at Keeneland for whatever reason. I know it was soft but he was a little over the top and had a little too much at two, but we let him catch his breath and set him up for a good year this year if he’s good enough and so far he’s made the most of his starts and ran well both times. He’s a full brother to Bobby’s Kitten but he’s a different kind of horse, he looks totally different. He’s a lighter framed, leggier horse that looks like he’ll run on a bit. I’m not exactly sure what that ceiling is but I think he’ll run beyond a mile and a sixteenth so we’ll probably inch him out.”
Q: Would you consider starting in the Belmont Derby ([G1] July 9)?
“It would be a hope, I don’t know at this point if he could go that far or if he’s good enough, but this was a real good race today, he showed a lot of heart. He only had one start with blinkers and he won and I think he beat a really nice horse (Beach Patrol) in that photo from California, that horse looks promising. Maybe try him at a mile and an eighth in a race like the ($200,000) Pennine Ridge ([G3] June 4) next time out if he comes out of it OK, and if he does then sure, we’ll try something like the (Belmont) Derby.”
Flavien Prat (rider of Beach Patrol, runner-up) – “It was a really good race for him. We were in the right spot. The pace was good for us. But that winner, he came up the inside and just outdid us. What can you do? That’s the race.”
Luis Saez (rider of Surgical Strike, third-place finisher) – "He was trying, coming running. When we got to the stretch, I thought we would be there, but those other two horses were fighting and kept going. It was a tough race. Every horse was a good horse. He ran well. I like how he ran.''
Photo courtesy Churchill Downs/Coady Photography.