Hay Dakota rallies for Commonwealth Turf victory

Profile Picture: Jen Caldwell

Jen Caldwell

November 12th, 2016

Alice Mettler’s 29-1 longshot Hay Dakota came motoring down the center of Churchill Downs’ grass course in Saturday’s $100,000 Commonwealth Turf (G3) to just get his neck in front of 3-1 favorite Bondurant on the wire.

Making just his second start against stakes rivals, Hay Dakota settled into ninth after being bothered early. Bondurant wasn’t that far in front of him in seventh as Scholar Athlete led the way up front through splits of :24.04, :48.88, 1:14.17 and 1:37.76.

Scholar Athlete clung tenuously to the advantage heading into the lane as the rest of the 11-strong field converged upon him. Bondurant actually came nine wide around the bend but Hay Dakota was widest of all, traveling down the center of the course.

Jockey Deny Velazquez stayed busy on the Haynesfield gelding throughout the lane and the duo just prevailed to complete 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf in 1:43.60.

Hay Dakota paid $60.20 for the win, his second in a row after taking an allowance/optional claimer at Hawthorne on October 19. Bondurant followed in second, a half-length up on a stubborn Scholar Athlete, who retained third by a neck over Zapperini.

That one only had a nose to spare on Sir Dudley Digges, who was followed under the wire by Ikerrin Road, One Man Man, Blackout, Discreetness, Tizzarunner and Surgical Strike.

Hay Dakota took six tries to break his maiden, finally getting the job done for trainer Joel Berndt on July 2 at Canterbury Park. The bay sophomore immediately added a 5 3/4-length allowance victory to his resume on August 4, then missed by only a neck when third in the Mystic Lake Derby 23 days later.

Hay Dakota dead-heated for third against allowance/optional claiming rivals next out in mid-September before scoring his last win in October. He improved his career record to read 11-4-1-3, $137,090, on Saturday.

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones, Hay Dakota sold for $47,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. He is the first registered foal of the unraced Harlan’s Holiday mare Church By the Sea, who is a half-sister to Grade 2 heroine Hello Liberty, and Grade 3-placed stakes vixen Pious Ashley. Hello Liberty also just missed by a neck in 2006 Test Stakes (G1).

This is the same female family as Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) champion Real Quiet.

Hay Dakota photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography


Joel Berndt, trainer Hay Dakota, winner

“This was one of my things to accomplish. I’ve won some training titles and won some stakes races, but I thought, ‘What’s next on my to-do list in my career?’ and of course it was to win a graded stakes race and to do it here at Churchill Downs is very special for me. I’m numb, kind of.

“I thought he had a shot, gauging off of One Mean Man and he was beating older horses up at Canterbury Park and Hawthorne. We were so far back that day in the Mystic Lake Derby and it was all speed that was winning that day. Maybe just one more jump would’ve helped us out.

“I’ve never won a race at Churchill Downs let alone a graded stakes race so to be able to say that I accomplished that is pretty awesome.”

Denny Velazquez, jockey Hay Dakota, winner

“This is very exciting to win a graded stakes race. I feel good, man.

“I was pretty confident in the horse. He’s a pretty good horse. I was just planning on waiting to move a little bit earlier than I did so I kind of waited around and I had a lot of horse underneath me and I thought that it was a great ride.”

Ian Wilkes, trainer Bondurant, second

“He ran great – he ran unbelievable. He was a little wide. I was telling (jockey) Brian (Hernandez Jr.) that I don’t think this horse has figured out his own style yet. He hasn’t quite understood what he wants to do. In some races he’ll drop way back, but today he was more on the muscle so Brian couldn’t save ground. He couldn’t tuck him in because he was just on (other horses’) heels too much. He ran great. He’s finishing – he’s finishing off strong and we’re proud of him.”

Brian Hernandez Jr., jockey Bondurant, second

“Our horse ran a good race. It was his first time in a stake and he stepped-up and ran a big race. We have to be proud of him.”

Q: Did you have any trouble during the race?

“No, the only thing is we were a little wide, but it was either be wide or be stuck behind a bunch of horses that weren’t going to take us anywhere. So I took the overland route just to give him a clean trip.”

Angel Cruz, jockey Scholar Athlete, third

“He settled really good on the backstretch. Coming to the stretch I had horse and I asked him and he responded. He just got outrun by a couple of horses that had more than me.”