My Baby Baby tracked the early pacesetters in fourth, made an outside move on the final turn to grab the lead from Tapitsfly and held off a late charge from fast-closing longshot Ravi’s Song to win Saturday’s Grade III, $113,900 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap by a neck at Churchill Downs.
The victory gave trainer Ken McPeek his third straight stakes win at Churchill Downs. Last Saturday, the 48-year-old swept a pair of Grade III events, the Dogwood and Aristides, with Salty Strike and Noble’s Promise, respectively. McPeek now has 20 stakes wins overall beneath the Twin Spires.
My Baby Baby, owned by McPeek’s family racing operation Magdalena Racing, covered 1 1/16 miles on “good” turf in 1:42.40 under jockey Manny Cruz, who rode five winners on the day.
“I was able to keep this mare relaxed,” Cruz said. “I knew she wanted to go, but she let me hold her and she stayed comfortable. I had a hold on her all the way into the stretch and then I finally let her run and she took off.”
Abuela, a 53-1 outsider, led the 10-horse field of fillies and mares through the first half-mile in fractions of :24.06 and :48.27. Tapitsfly was in close pursuit and took command down the backstretch, clocking six furlongs in 1:12.20. My Baby Baby raced in the clear from fourth most of the way and drew even entering the stretch. Runner-up Ravi’s Song saved ground along the inside until she swung out for an outside rally to just miss. She finished a nose ahead of Tapitsfly in third.
Snow Top Mountain, the slight 2-1 favorite over Check the Label, finished another length back in fourth and was followed by Askbut I Won’ttell, Abuela, Silver La Belle, Sweetest Song, Check the Label and Vivo Per Lei. Bella Medaglia was scratched.
My Baby Baby returned mutuels of $17.20, $8.20 and $5.20. Ravi’s Song paid $13.40 and $7.80. Tapitsfly returned $4.40.
In all likeliness, the Early Times Mint Julep was the final start of My Baby Baby’s 30-race career. The 6-year-old mare won while in foal to 2007-08 Horse of the Year Curlin, and she’ll give birth early next year. She was covered Feb. 12.
“I’m so proud of her that she finally got that elusive graded stakes win,” McPeek said. “She’s been knocking on the door and had been graded stakes-placed five times.”
The $67,088 first prize jumped My Baby Baby’s earnings to $493,739. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Bernstein has seven wins, eight seconds and six thirds from 30 starts.
Racing at Churchill Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m. There will be a five-day Pick 6 carryover of $32,429 on Races 5-10.
EARLY TIMES MINT JULEP HANDICAP QUOTES
Manny Cruz, rider of My Baby Baby (winner): “I was able to keep this mare relaxed. I knew she wanted to go, but she let me hold her and she stayed comfortable. I had a hold on her all the way into the stretch and then I finally let her run and she took off.
“There are a lot more (stakes wins) to come for me. I’m very excited to be here in Kentucky and I am going to work very, very hard. I hope the trainers help me. If they give me the chance, I promise to show them what I can do.”
Ken McPeek, trainer of My Baby Baby (winner): “She’s really special. She also ran on no Lasix today…just like Salty Strike when she won the Dogwood. Also, she (My Baby Baby) is in-foal to Curlin. This will probably be her last race. I’m tempted to run her one more because she’s doing so well, but more than likely she will be retired.”
Q: On three stakes wins in a row: “We’ve got a nice base of horses in the barn and it’s been really fun. We’re going to run three in the Regret so hopefully we can get another one.”
Carl Bowman, trainer of Ravi’s Song (runner-up)
Q: That was quite a debut on grass …“To say that I knew she would love the grass – I can’t tell you that. She worked well enough on the grass, but it was more of a race of necessity. We have difficulty filling races (at Churchill Downs) going two turns on dirt and there were no more for her. But it worked out well.”
Q: She’s a good filly and you’ve been looking to find the right button for her … “I think I’ve finally got her where she needs to be. I got her off rhythm last year. But she’s come to form and Corey (Lanerie) has ridden her great.”
Corey Lanerie, jockey on Ravi’s Song (runner-up): “She ran awesome. At the sixteenth pole I thought I had ‘em. I was able to save all the ground and came out to the middle of the track. When I put her out there, I don’t know, she might have got lost. It was her first time on the grass and stuff, and I think she didn’t run as hard as she could have to the wire. But then again, maybe she just got outrun. There were some nice horses in there and to run second, and just get beat, is not an embarrassment.”
Q: You are having and amazing meet – six winners over the last two days and a near-upset here …“I wish I knew what I was doing to be sure to keep going, but things have just gone good and I’m enjoying it and thankful for it.”
Miguel Mena, jockey on Tapitsfly (third): “She ran good today. I had a good trip and an easy lead. You couldn’t ask for a better trip. She tried to come back at the end, but we just got outrun.”
Robby Albarado, jockey on Snow Top Mountain (fourth): “She had a great trip. I had a shot to get there turning for home, but she stayed where she was. Those were good fillies there – a Breeders’ Cup winner, My Baby Bay. It was just a group of nice horses there.”