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On Fire Baby romps in the Golden Rod

Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby became only the seventh filly to sweep Churchill Downs’ fall stakes for 2-year-old fillies when she broke fastest from the gate and never looked back en route to a 6 1/4-length victory over Goldrush Girl in the 68th running of the $169,350 Golden Rod (Grade II) on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

 

Ridden by Joe Johnson and trained by Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby clipped off fractions of :24.70, :50.01, 1:14.86 and 1:39.49 before stopping the teletimer in 1:45.98 for 1 1/16 miles over a “fast” main track.

 

“After the past performances for the race came out, I started looking them over,” Johnson said. “I studied them last night and came in this morning and said, ‘Dog (Gary Hartlage), I can’t read this (Daily) Racing Form.’ And he asked why and I said, ‘I can’t see the speed in this race.’ And he said, “What a coincidence because neither can I.” So the plan was to break and go on with her. When we broke, no one was really gunning for it (the lead), so I took advantage of it and when I called on her to run, she responded. She was very professional today.”

 

On Oct. 30, On Fire Baby scored her first stakes triumph in the $173,400 Pocahontas for 2-year-old fillies at one mile. Others who completed the Pocahontas-Golden Rod double are Weekend Surprise (1982), Flippers (1983), At the Half (1993), French Park (2005), Pure Clan (2006) and Sassy Image (2009).

 

The victory was worth $99,747 and increased On Fire Baby’s earnings to $227,329 with a record of 3-0-0 in four starts.

 

“You saw today how good she is and I think she’s got plenty left in her,” Hartlage said. “When she got away with that kind of a half (mile), I didn’t think she would get beat if she was the horse I thought she was and she did her thing. They let us walk like a dog and she’s just that good. I’ve trained a couple of Grade II winners, but she’s the best one I’ve ever had. In my opinion, she’s one of the top three 2-year-old fillies in the country.”

 

On Fire Baby is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken out of the Gilded Time mare Ornate and a half-sister to Grade II stakes winner High Heels. She returned $7.40, $4.40 and $3.40 as the slight 5-2 favorite in the field of 10 two-year-old fillies. Goldrush Gal, ridden by Manny Cruz, closed late to finish second at 29-1 and paid $19.60 and $9.20. Back Spin, at 25-1 with Jon Court aboard, was another three-quarters of a length back in third and returned $11.40.

 

Golden History, Customer Base, Glinda the Good, Karlovy Vary, Jamraa, Spring Eclipse and Spirited Miss completed the order of finish. Annie Russell was a late scratch.

 

Hartlage plans to send On Fire Baby to Oaklawn Park where she’ll be prepared for lucrative stakes races this winter.

 

“We’re nominated to the Kentucky Oaks now and we’ll also nominate her to the Kentucky Derby (Triple Crown),” Hartlage said. “I’m telling you, she is that good.”

 

The two Golden Rod winners that went on to win the Kentucky Oaks are Silverbulletday (1999) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).

 

Closing day of the 21-day Fall Meet is Sunday and Churchill Downs will offer free general admission to all patrons and a 2012 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar to the first 5,000 in attendance. The first of 11 races is 12:40 p.m. EST.

 

GOLDEN ROD QUOTES

 

Gary Hartlage, trainer of On Fire Baby (winner): “You saw today how good she is and I think she’s got plenty left in her. When she got away with that kind of a half (mile), I didn’t think she would get beat if she was the horse I thought she was and she did her thing. They let us walk like a dog and she’s just that good. I’ve trained a couple of Grade II winners, but she’s the best one I’ve ever had. In my opinion, she’s one of the top three 2-year-old fillies in the country.”

 

Q. Now you’re nominated to the Kentucky Oaks. Will that be the goal next year? “We’re nominated to the Kentucky Oaks now and we’ll also nominate her to the Kentucky Derby (Triple Crown). I’m telling you, she is that good.”

 

Joe Johnson, jockey on On Fire Baby (winner): “After the past performances for the race came out, I started looking them over. I studied them last night and came in this morning and said, ‘Dog (Gary Hartlage), I can’t read this Racing Form.’ And he asked why and I said, ‘I can’t see the speed in this race.’ And he said, “What a coincidence because neither can I.” So the plan was to break and go on with her. When we broke, no one was really gunning for it (the lead), so I took advantage of it and when I called on her to run, she responded. She was very professional today.”

 

Ken McPeek, trainer of Goldrush Girl (runner-up): “She’s a nice filly. She’ll run all day long. She’s still real immature. I was real pleased with the way he (jockey Manny Cruz) rode her. That’s the first time we’ve really had a chance to run her on the dirt, so we’re real happy with her.

 

“I’m happy for Gary (trainer Gary Hartlage). He’s plugged along a long time in this game and he hasn’t had many clients lately. He deserves a good horse and he certainly has a good horse.”

 

Manny Cruz, rider of Goldrush Girl (runner-up): “She ran a big race. She sat off the pace and we saved some ground. We made on move and she gave it to me.”

 

“Jinks” Fires, trainer of Back Spin (third): “We ran well. We took the overland route, but we were last and had to circle. She ran super. There was a slow pace and that doesn’t help when you’re back there and trying to catch everybody. If you’ve got somebody to try and entertain the speed, that helps.”

 

Q: Gary Hartlage’s horse (On Fire Baby) ran huge … “She did. I was tickled to death to see Gary win it if we didn’t.” 

 

Jon Court, rider of Back Spin (third – note: Court collected his 400th career win at Churchill Downs earlier in the day): “It’s been a real good day. I knew Churchill had that (400-win) sign. I was just hoping they wouldn’t have to use it next spring. The filly ran good today. She broke, but it wasn’t as quick a pace as I was expecting. She was a little on the muscle behind them wanting to go, but I was able to settle in my position and make that one run, and she got up for third. We’re delighted with that.

 

“She’s just getting better and better and we hope to go to some of the best spots with her.”

 

Q: How special was that career milestone to you? “It means a lot. I tried not to think of it too much on the approach, but once I got to it and over it, it seemed to have a bigger impact, and a lot more gratification and appreciation of being at Churchill. A few of the trainers gave me a hard time, saying if I hadn’t gone to California to ride I could have doubled that and beyond, but that’s fine. It’s all in the name of racing and that’s good.”

 

 

 

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