Flashback: Frankel favorite Ventura zips in the Woodbine Mile

By Keeler Johnson, Special to HRN
September 10, 2019 09:10am

Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel conditioned dozens of Grade 1 winners during his lengthy career. One of the last — and one of his favorites — was the versatile Ventura, who demonstrated equal prowess on both grass and synthetic tracks during her productive racing career.

Bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms, Ventura was astonishingly consistent, cracking the trifecta in 19 of her 21 starts while accumulating more than $2.5 million in earnings. Few horses, male or female, could resist Ventura’s wicked turn of foot. She blew the doors off champion Indian Blessing in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, powering clear to win by four lengths; and in the 2009 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) against males, it took the three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti to deny her victory by a nose.

But despite her consistency and brilliance, bettors didn’t consider Ventura a shoo-in to prevail in the 2009 Woodbine Mile (G1), a race that renews this Saturday. Perhaps they were concerned by her defeat in the previous year’s edition of the race, where she’d finished second behind Rahy’s Attorney. Maybe they were concerned about her five-month layoff — she hadn’t run since April. Or perhaps they were concerned by the quality of her opposition; she would be facing Rahy’s Attorney once again, as well as the 2009 Metropolitan Handicap (G1) winner Bribon.

Her jockey, Garrett Gomez, wasn’t concerned about any of these factors. As the horses headed to the starting gate, he was more preoccupied with keeping the eager-to-run Ventura under control. As noted by writer Jennifer Morrison in
The Blood-Horse of September 26, 2009, Ventura’s journey to the starting gate “saw her hop, skip, buck, and sweat out,” a challenging set of circumstances for any jockey to handle.

“You don’t worry with Bobby [about a horse’s fitness],” Gomez remarked in
The Blood-Horse. “He knows this filly like the back of his hand. She was off for a while, but you could see she was feeling her oats and had those pre-race nerves. But I got her calmed down and after that, she settled in.”

Ventura was almost too settled during the early stages of the Woodbine Mile. Coming out of the gate, she immediately dropped back to ninth place in a field of 10, seven lengths behind modest early fractions of :23.55 and :46.03 posted by Grand Adventure and Rahy’s Attorney. As the field moved down the backstretch and around the far turn, Ventura remained near the back with only one runner beaten. At the top of the Woodbine homestretch, she still had 5 ½ lengths to make up.

Most horses wouldn’t be able to produce the needed burst of speed to close such a gap. But Ventura was simply exuding power, running up behind rivals in her eagerness to accelerate. She might have bulled her way through the middle of the pack if allowed, shoving horses out of the way to create openings where none existed. But Gomez — sensing the power beneath him — wisely wrestled Ventura off heels and to the far outside, where she could rally unimpeded by traffic.

Once Ventura saw daylight, she wasted no time. You could practically smell rubber burning as she lengthened her stride and flew past her eight rivals without so much as a nod of recognition. Eventual runner-up Ferneley tried to get her attention by shoving mutual rival Field Commission into her path, and later by bumping Ventura herself. But Ventura paid no heed to such childish antics. Instead, she stayed focused on running “like a bullet from a gun,” per track announcer Dan Loiselle, sprinting clear of Ferneley to win decisively.

Ventura’s turn of foot was so breathtaking, so brilliant, that Gomez never even resorted to the whip, merely hand riding his mount to the finish line. No other encouragement was needed. Under her own power, Ventura rocketed the final quarter-mile in approximately :22 flat to record a final time of 1:32.04, which shattered the stakes record and missed the course record by just 0.20 seconds.

“She’s got a turn of foot. She’s like a rocket,” Gomez marveled in
The Blood-Horse. “You’ve seen it in the Breeders’ Cup. You’ve seen it here. They were coming home and she went by them like they were falling apart.”

For Bobby Frankel, Ventura’s victory marked a masterful training triumph. He had produced the 5-year-old mare ready to roll in open Grade 1 company off a five-month layoff, a feat that wasn’t lost on Juddmonte Farms manager Garrett O’Rourke.

“Great credit to Bobby and all the crew, and having her ready off her layoff,” he said in
The Blood-Horse. “She is one of his very favorites, she is a super mare, she is so full of spit and vinegar, and she came here today, and went one better than last year.”

Ventura’s victory made her the first filly or mare to prevail in the Woodbine Mile, paving the way for 2016 winner Tepin and this year’s potential favorite, Got Stormy, who leads a prospective field drawing Wednesday at Woodbine.

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. You can follow him on Twitter at @J_Keelerman.


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