Kitten stares down ‘gun in McKnight; Goldy locks up another in La Prevoyante

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

December 27th, 2015

Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Charming Kitten dug in resiliently to see off Kaigun by a neck in Saturday’s $100,000 W.L. McKnight H. (G3) at Gulfstream Park.

The 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy was scoring an arguably overdue first graded victory after several placings at the higher level, most memorably a tough beat by a head in the 2013 Virginia Derby (G2). Ironically, the winner of that Virginia Derby battle was War Dancer, who faded to seventh in Saturday’s McKnight.

Charming Kitten had previously won a pair of black-type events, the 2013 Kitten’s Joy (fittingly, as a son of that turf champ and leading sire) here at Gulfstream as well as the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational. And now he’s made it three consecutive seasons with a stakes win.

Under regular rider John Velazquez, the Todd Pletcher charge was well placed in a stalking fourth early. War Dancer, who had shadowed 44-1 longshot Beyond Smart through an opening quarter in :24.68, took over passing the stands for the first time and posted splits of :49.69, 1:14.71 and 1:39.82 on the firm turf. Charming Kitten crept into second as they made their second passage down the backstretch, accosted War Dancer rounding the final turn, and struck the front.

But at the top of the homestretch, Kaigun got a perfect seam between Charming Kitten and Da Big Hoss, the 7-5 favorite who was covering more ground wider out. Kaigun picked up on the proverbial dime and drew alongside Charming Kitten, hinting that he’d go on by. Charming Kitten refused to let him pass, however. Sticking his neck out determinedly, he held on to finish 1 1/2 miles in 2:27.76.

Although beaten, Kaigun stayed the trip much more convincingly than when fourth in the Canadian International (G1) two back. His effectiveness over a wide range of distances will keep his options very open. Might his wheelhouse prove closer to the 10-furlong range in time?

Da Big Hoss reported home a further 3 1/4 lengths adrift, salvaging third from the fast-finishing St. Albans Boy. A sharp claim by Mike Maker over the summer, the Lemon Drop Kid colt should continue to pay his way in this division. War Dancer, on the other hand, has been in a downward spiral of late – whither now with him?

Charming Kitten has amassed $873,937 from his 26-7-7-2 record. Aside from the Virginia Derby, his eight other stakes placings include the 2013 Blue Grass (G1), Palm Beach (G3), Hawthorne Derby (G3) and Penn Mile as well as the 2012 With Anticipation (G2) and Dania Beach and this year’s Lure S. and Sycamore (G3).

Two races later, Swift Thoroughbreds and Bradley Thoroughbreds’ Goldy Espony turned in another routine wire job in the companion $100,000 La Prevoyante (G3) for distaffers. The one anxious moment (and that’s overstating it) was whether the even-money favorite could cut across from the far outside post 11 without using too much energy. Once that was answered in the affirmative after an opening quarter in :24.87, the rest was almost a formality.

Goldy Espony was just cruising with Javier Castellano, who cleverly slowed it down through fractions of :50.35, 1:16.84 and 1:42.59. With an early tempo progressively slower than the McKnight at every call, Goldy Espony had bags in reserve turning for home. The Chad Brown filly sped 1 1/2 lengths clear in a final time of 2:29.51.

Two early stalkers chased her home. The 35-1 Maximova fought for runner-up honors by a neck from Rosalind, the winner’s stablemate who was likely making her swan song. The respective fourth and fifth, Habibi and Trophee (Treve’s half-sister), deserve extra credit for rallying from the tail of the field in the circumstances. The disappointment of the race was Gotachancetodance, an eyecatching third to Goldy Espony at Aqueduct last time, but no factor in seventh on Saturday.

Goldy Espony is undefeated from four starts at this 1 1/2-mile distance, all in stakes – the July 5 River Memories at Belmont, the August 8 Waya (G3) at Saratoga, and the November 7 Long Island H. (G3) in her latest. Her only blemish this season came when an uncharacteristic last in the September 5 Glens Falls (G3) at the Spa, a combination of a crazy pace scenario and exiting the race with foot trouble. Also victorious in the 2014 Prix Penelope (G3) and Prix Rose de Mai in her native France, the gray daughter of Vespone sports a mark of 15-8-1-2, $581,884.

Photos courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography: Charming Kitten (inside) over Kaigun by Lauren King, Goldy Espony by Arianna Spadoni.