Charming Kitten’s class, stamina too much for Jerkens foes

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January 23rd, 2016

When Gulfstream Park established a 2-mile turf stakes in honor of the legendary H. Allen Jerkens last year, chances are you wouldn’t have guessed that Todd Pletcher would win the first two runnings. But after taking the 2015 inaugural with Unitarian, Pletcher doubled up with 2-5 favorite Charming Kitten in Saturday’s $100,000 renewal.

The Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred warranted that short a price in light of his class edge, proficiency over the marathon trip, and affinity for Gulfstream, where he just added the December 26 W.L. McKnight (G3) to his resume. And a textbook passage through the race, courtesy of Hall of Famer John Velazquez, clinched it.

Saving ground nearly all the way from his rail post, Charming Kitten drafted in the slipstream of pacesetter Roccia d’Oro through slow fractions on the good turf. (The splits posted in running were :27.12, :54.62, 1:21.40 and 1:48.03 for the mile, but they were not recorded on the chart.) Xaverian, trained by Jerkens’ protégé Chuck Simon, was well placed in second, and St. Albans Boy was also in a forward stalking spot on the outside.

Xaverian cruised to the front leaving the final turn, but just as the storyline of “pupil winning race named for master” appeared possible, along came Charming Kitten. After peeling out for the drive, the 6-year-old son of turf champion and leading sire Kitten’s Joy deployed his reserves of power late. Charming Kitten overtook Xaverian by 1 1/2 lengths and completed the course in 3:33.87 – more than 10 seconds off the mark of 3:23.22 set by Unitarian a year ago.

The rest were mostly strung out. Xaverian reported home 6 3/4 lengths clear of St. Albans Boy. Roccia d’Oro faded to fourth, and there was a chasm back to Mucho Mas Macho and Matuszak. Neutronstar was eased when hopelessly beaten entering the stretch.

Charming Kitten had won the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational in his only prior 2-mile attempt, and as Ramsey noted post-race, he’s now “unbeaten” at this distance.

Ramsey also observed that Pletcher is unbeaten in this race, and recalled wistfully that last year, Jerkens himself was here to present the trophy. The Hall of Fame horseman died a little less than two months later, and Gulfstream’s race now honors his memory.

Charming Kitten scored a similarly meaningful stakes victory here in 2013, in the stakes named for his sire, Kitten’s Joy. By adding the Jerkens to the aforementioned Belmont Gold Cup and McKnight, he’s captured stakes in four straight years. The Kentucky-bred dark bay has amassed nine stakes placings, chief among them his tough beat in the 2013 Virginia Derby (G2) and his third in that year’s Blue Grass (G1). His resume now reads 27-8-7-2, $934,697.

Considering Ramsey’s global ambitions, and the lack of many 2-mile opportunities in this country, you’ve got to wonder if he’s not thinking about international targets with Charming Kitten. In the near term, there’s the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night, and further down the road, the Melbourne Cup (G1) on the first Tuesday in November. He’d surely meet far stiffer opposition, but why not roll the dice on a sightseeing tour with a stayer by your flagship stallion?

Photo courtesy of Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography.