A Rose Blooms On the Grass

Courtesy of the TDN

By Bill Finley

‘Inside the Winner’s Circle, Presented by Keeneland” is a series showcasing graduates of the Keeneland September sale who have gone on to achieve success on racing’s biggest stages.

It may still be true that most buyers show up at the sales looking to bring home horses that will go on to have prolific careers on the dirt. But American racing has made a dramatic shift in recent years, with more and more emphasis on grass racing. There are more races on the turf, more stakes on the turf and a lot more money available than ever before to those who own and train a top-class grass horse. All of which means, it would be a bigger mistake than ever to overlook those horses at the sales who you believe will end up spending most of their careers on the turf.

No horse better exemplifies this than the 3-year-old filly Concrete Rose (Twirling Candy), the winner of the July 6 GI Belmont Oaks Invitational. The Keeneland Sales graduate, who sold for $20,000 at the 2017 September Sale, is five-for-six in her career, a Grade I winner and has earned $818,650. With NYRA having recently created the Triple Tiara Series, of which the 10-furlong Belmont Oaks was the first leg, Concrete Rose now has a chance to win an additional $900,000 should she sweep the second and third legs of the all-grass series. The series continues with the inaugural $750,000 Saratoga Oaks at Saratoga and concludes Sept. 7 at Belmont with the inaugural $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks. Trainer Rusty Arnold said he is pointing the filly to both remaining races.

There is a similar three-race series at NYRA for 3-year-old males called the Turf Trinity.

As recently as three or four years ago, anyone training a 3- year-old grass filly would have been lucky to find a few spots worth something in the $200,000 range.

“I love grass racing,” Arnold said. “The horses are healthier on it, they last longer on it and it’s easier on them. Kentucky Downs has exploded with its purses, and it’s been really good to me. When I go to the sales, I look for an athlete first. Yes, people still want a (GI) Kentucky Derby or (GI) Kentucky Oaks winner and I understand why. There’s nothing like a good dirt horse because you know where those opportunities are. But I don’t think you just dismiss a grass family as quickly as you used to. I think that has changed over the last four or five years and I think with this series at NYRA it is going to cause that to change even more. Our filly has a chance to run in three high-quality races with big purses and two of those races weren’t even there a year ago.”

Prior to Concrete Rose’s first start, Arnold wasn’t sure whether he had a grass filly or not. But he had her ready to go for the Saratoga meet and thought she might not be quick enough to win a maiden sprint on the dirt. That he had had so much success with the grass sprinting mare Morticia (Twirling Candy), who was by the same sire, also helped him make his decision. Concrete Rose debuted Aug. 20 and won a 5 1/2-furlong turf maiden by 1 3/4 lengths.

Shortly after the maiden win, BBN Racing LLC bought a piece of the filly, becoming a partner of Ashbrook Farm.

“We have had a long relationship with Rusty Arnold and we knew he was very high on her talent,” said Braxton Lynch, the managing partner of BBN Racing. “He knew that she really didn’t want to be a 5 1/2-furlong filly. They thought she was talented, but they also thought they’d just be getting a race into her in that first race. The turn of foot she showed that day was pretty incredible. She was going 5 1/2 furlongs, was in the back of the field and came with the kind of explosion that gives you an indication of what’s to come.”

Concrete Rose was every bit as impressive in her next start when winning the GII Jessamine S. at Keeneland. Her 2-year-old season ended with an eighth-place finish in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. But she spent most of her trip toward the inside, which was clearly the worst part of the course that day at Churchill Downs.

Concrete Rose | Sarah K Andrew

She made her 3-year-old debut in the GIII Florida Oaks at Tampa, which she won by a half-length and then headed back to Churchill Downs for the GIII Edgewood S. Despite her solid credentials, she went off at 5-1, as many people did not believe she could beat last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Newspaperofrecord (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}). She not only beat her, she beat her handily, by 3 3/4 lengths under new rider Julien Leparoux.

The Belmont Oaks drew a stellar field, one so with so much talent that it might have been a tougher spot than even the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Newspaperofrecord was back and was made the betting favorite. Aidan O’Brien shipped in two from Ireland for the race. Olendon (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) was coming off a second-place finish in the G1 Prix St. Alary for top French trainer Pascal Bary and there was a mystery horse in the field in the Japanese shipper Jodie (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}).

“We caught Newspaperofrecord in the Edgewood at time when she hadn’t run since the Breeders’ Cup,” said Bo Bromagen, the racing manager for Ashbrook Farm. “But after that race we figured Newspaperofrecord was fit and going to be able to give 100 percent.

Bromagen continued, “My real question was the European horses. That French filly (Olendon) looked like she was the real deal coming out of her last race and we knew she’d be a threat. Then there was the Japanese horse, and it’s hard to compare those horses to U.S. horses. I looked at the PPs and I thought to myself that there are some serious threats in here. We were confident, though. As well as she was doing coming into the Edgewood, she seemed to be doing even better coming into this race.”

It was a case of more of the same as Concrete Rose won by 2 3/4 lengths over the O’Brien-trained Just Wonderful (Dansili {GB}). There are plenty more races left to be run for 3-year-old turf fillies, including the GI Queen Elizabeth II S. at Keeneland in the fall, but Concrete Rose has certainly earned the right to be called the current leader among her division.

She’s also done so despite selling for a modest price at Keeneland and being out of a dam, Solerina (Powerscourt {GB}), whose two previous foals had gone a combined 0 for 36 on the racetrack through July 9.

“She’s shown that a good horse can come from anywhere,” said her breeder Ron Patterson, who added that in a typical year he breeds just two horses. “It makes it nice for the little breeder. It’s nice to see the little guy can come up with a good horse just like the big guys.”

With the Belmont Oaks Invitational behind them, the connections of Concrete Rose no longer know what her limits are. She was an inexpensive filly at the sales and is not regally bred, but she has found her niche: grass racing. From here, anything is possible.

“You want to overachieve with anything you do, and I like to dream high,” Lynch said. “That’s what this game is about, trying to achieve something big. If you had told me after her maiden win that she’d become a Grade I winner and earn over $800,000, it’s not that I wouldn’t have believed you, but I guess I would have been a little skeptical. She’s an overachiever.”

And with two races left in NYRA’s Turf Tiara Series, the best may be yet to come.