There were other good reasons for me to be there today, but to see a Queen's Plate winner come out victorious in a real slobberknocker of a stretch drive, only put a cherry on top of a great day at beautiful Kentucky Downs. Despite winning his biggest race on a synthetic surface, there can be little doubt that Sir Dudley Digges is best on the grass, and today he showed off his turf prowess with a hard fought victory over Thatcher Street in the Old Friends Stakes by a head.
In winning his first stakes race since the Queen’s Plate of 2016, the good looking son of Gio Ponti won his third race in the last four tries, having scored two allowance victories at Churchill Downs, before finishing off the board in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap, for trainer Mike Maker.
Sent off at generous odds of 9-2 in the field of six, Sir Dudley Digges, under Tyler Gaffalione, found a comfortable stalking position behind the easy early pace being set by Thatcher Street. That one led every step of the way until the Canadian classic winner made his move early in the long stretch of Kentucky Downs.
Sir Dudley Digges moved in quickly, but he found his stretch rival to be a stubborn competitor. Try as he might to stay with him, though, Thatcher Street eventually fell just short to the momentum of the Ken and Sarah Ramsey color-bearer.
Riding at Kentucky Downs for the first time this week, Gaffalione, the apprentice rider of the year in 2015, explained the tight finish this way ...
“When he got next to that horse, he started laying on him a little bit, started to hang. I just had to stay after him. I knew I had the horse to go on with it, but he was being a little stubborn. We had a perfect trip, just sat behind the speed. When I asked him to run, I just kicked him out and he exploded. Mike and his team do a great job. Any time you ride for him you have confidence.”
Final time for the 1 mile and 70 yards over the good turf was 1:48.43. Thatcher Street finished 1 3/4-lengths ahead of Gliding Alone, who was easily best of the rest at the finish.
Sir Dudley Digges raised his career record to 18-5-5-3, with earnings of $752,184, after today's hard fought stakes victory. As the third choice, the Ontario-bred paid $11, $4.80, and $4.20 across the board. The exacta over the game runner-up was good for $53.40, while the 5-12-3 trifecta completed by Gliding Alone, returned $527.40.
“It was very exciting,” remarked a happy Jeff Ramsey, son of owners Ken and Sarah. “It’s a great stakes race, the Old Friends. They’re a great group of people working for a great cause: taking care of our retired thoroughbreds… He’s a great horse, been doing really well for us, and we’re excited to have this win. Good to see him back in form.”
I was not the only one enjoying, and pushing money through the windows, on a lovely day at the only European style course in the United States. $5,402,254 was wagered on the ten-race turf card, making it the second-highest single-day wagering total in track history.