‘Very Much Like Home’: Joseph O’Brien Sends Runners To Kentucky Downs

One of Europe’s top stables will make its first start at Kentucky Downs as the Joseph O’Brien-trained Stay Lost runs in Thursday’s seventh race for 2-year-old filly maidens.

Three O’Brien horses arrived at Kentucky Downs from Saratoga on Tuesday, heading to the track Wednesday morning for training over the undulating turf course. The horses were part of what was a four-horse New York contingent that came over from the trainer’s Ireland base.

Another horse, Saratoga’s Mahony Stakes runner-up Cadamosto, needs three scratches to run in Saturday’s overfilled $600,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes (Grade 2) for 3-year-old sprinters at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.

“It’s very like home,” said assistant trainer Gary O’Connor, who is overseeing the O’Brien horses. “The track is pretty much the same as home. It’s pretty nice, and the horses are settling in well.”

O’Connor said Kentucky Downs reminds him of Killarney, which is a left-handed course that also has a sharp first turn and undulates. Killarney also has a sweeping far turn and at 1 1/4 miles in circumference is a sixteenth-mile shorter than Kentucky Downs. One thing is very different, however.

“The prize money here is unbelievable, isn’t it?” O’Connor said. “It’s very good. A bit of luck and hopefully we’ll be there” to get some of it.

The Irish-bred Cadamosto has three fourth-place finishes in group stakes in Europe. Had any one of those been a third, he would have gotten into the body of the race under Kentucky Downs’ preference system, which prioritizes horses that have won graded or group stakes, followed by horses that have been in the top three in a graded or group stakes. The final tiebreaker for horses trying to get into a race is turf earnings, where Europe’s much smaller purses work against those horses.

“It’s a pity. Fingers crossed he gets in,” O’Connor said. “I’m not sure what the plan would be if he doesn’t. I’ll leave that to the boss and the connections that own him.”

The Kentucky-bred Stay Lost finished sixth in her racing debut at 1 1/16 miles at Saratoga.

“She’s been doing great since she came here,” he said.

Reckoning Force, with a third and a fourth at Saratoga, got into a race for closing day, joining the field of ten 2-year-olds for the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile that was rescheduled after inclement weather forced its cancelation last Saturday.

Asked if O’Brien was sticking in his toe to test the water for running more horses at Kentucky Downs in the future, O’Connor said: “Hopefully. The two lads with me and I have been to Belmont and Saratoga the last few weeks. We seem to be traveling with horses to America more and more. I’m kind of getting the hang of it now.”

And that is?

“If they travel well and keep eating and drinking, they’ve got a great chance,” he said. “And these three have been doing that.”

O’Brien, the son of leading Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, was a top jockey, including winning the 2011 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf on St Nicholas Abbey at Churchill Downs. The next year Joseph O’Brien rode Camelot to victory in the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Irish Derby. Both horses were trained by his dad. In 2016, the younger O’Brien gave up riding races to concentrate on training.

Early in his training career, O’Brien’s U.S. runners were pretty much limited to coming over for the Breeders’ Cup. He won his first U.S. race in 2019 when Iridessa captured the $2 million Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita. He didn’t run in the Breeders’ Cup last year at Del Mar but O’Brien did train the winners of the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup (Baron Samedi) and the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational (21-1 shot State of Rest). So far this year, he has two seconds, a third and three fourths racing at Belmont Park and Saratoga.

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