Royal Ascot here we come as Lady Aurelia strikes at Keeneland
European sprinters be warned: Lady Aurelia is back – and she means business.
Making her three-year-old debut at Keeneland on Saturday on her first start for nearly seven months, the rocket-charged American filly dismissed a double-figure field of older fillies and mares in the Giant's Causeway Stakes, a $100,000 ungraded contest.
Sent off the even-money favourite, Lady Aurelia (Wesley Ward/John Velazquez) broke in mid-division before being produced five wide into the stretch, where she overwhelmed her rivals to score by two and a half lengths over Nobody's Fault.
Despite losing a shoe, she stopped the clock in a time of 1m02.40s – just off the stakes record of 1m02.23s set by West Ocean in 2010. The daughter of Scat Daddy was winning for the fourth time in five career starts, setting herself up for a return visit to Royal Ascot, where she scorched the turf last year in a spectacular performance in the Queen Mary.
Wesley Ward is now eyeing the King's Stand Stakes. "She's a wonderful filly," he marvelled. "She has a big future – we're excited to get back over to England to Ascot. She’ll train right here at Keeneland until we go.
“Our ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup," added Ward. "That will be five-eighths on the turf at Del Mar. Should suit her perfect.
“She did everything great. That is what we wanted to do: get her back, get her to settle and make a run. This sets her up perfect."
John Velazquez said Lady Aurelia had "relaxed really well". The rider added: "At the quarter pole, I gave her a little kiss and she was in the battle right away.
"I was concerned with that much speed in the race, I didn’t want to get hooked up head to head. I was talking to Wesley earlier today and he was a little worried that he hadn't taken her to the gate yet, but I said that might be good, if she gets away a little slower without me having to take hold of her.
"Sure enough, she broke a touch slow. The other horses went, I gave her a little tug and she came right back to my hand. She relaxed really well behind horses, and at the quarter pole, when I asked her, she responded right away."
Also on Saturday
Keeneland: Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f | turf | 4yo+ f/m
Dickinson (Kiaran McLaughlin/Paco Lopez) rounded off a wonderful Keeneland four-timer for Godolphin with a last-gasp victory over Lady Eli in the feature event.
Sheikh Mohammed's team probably could not have picked a better time to go on a winning spree, as those with a taste for irony will surely have noted that the entire Keeneland card was branded 'Coolmore Day' as Godolphin's arch rivals sponsored the main event.
Sent off slightly bigger than a 6-1 shot for the Jenny Wiley, Dickinson surged home in the dying strides after meeting trouble in the stretch to catch 1-2 favourite Lady Eli, who looked sure to win as she was unleashed at the furlong marker and put a couple of lengths into her rivals.
Dickinson, a five-year-old Darley homebred by Medaglia D'Oro, had other ideas, however, and duly landed her first Grade 1 success by a head.
"This filly's done nothing but got better, From the Grade 3 to Grade 2, it's been a natural progression," said Godolphin America president Jimmy Bell. "She ran very determinedly. She got checked one time, but came on again with some real desire and tenacity."
Godolphin's principal US trainer Kiaran McLaughlin also took the Grade 3 Ben Ali with Watershed (Paco Lopez) plus a pair of minor events with Tasteful (Joel Rosario) and Zennor (Joe Bravo).
"For Godolphin, it’s a great day, and she’s just a nice filly," commented McLaughlin. "It's just unbelievable to win four at Keeneland, especially ending with a Grade 1."