Bridgetown earns oats at Keeneland with stretch run in Woodford Stakes

Ordinarily, none of Speightstown’s sons or daughters lags behind in any race. Those thoroughbreds are sprinters. They were bred to be sprinters. Few of them can be found being tried in any race that calls for going more than one mile.

Speightstown was the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner at the six-furlong distance. His progeny — either colts or fillies — confine their talents to the shorter races, whether they be on the grass, on synthetic courses, or on dirt surfaces.

Bridgetown won a 5-1/2 furlong sprint at Keeneland in his last race.

One of Speightstown’s sons is Bridgetown, named as are all of owner Eugene Melnyk’s throughbreds after some spot in Barbados, and he just won the Woodford Stakes on the grass at Keeneland’s short fall meeting.

It was no blockbuster surprise that Bridgetown won the race under the direction of rider Javier Castellano. But the race strategy differed from what usually occurs when Speightstown’s sons or daughters are running.

The Grade IIII Woodford is barely long enough to allow any horse to fall very far behind, being only 5 1/2 furlongs and usually run by the winner in just over one minute.

Bridgetown was third behind pacesetter Great Mills as the six-horse field moved crisply through the race’s only turn. Bridgetown doesn’t generally lag off the pace. He sets the pace. No matter how fast he is forced to run by the competition.

But in the Woodford on the immaculate grounds at Keeneland, there was Bridgetown following . . . following in the first few furlongs. The hushed crowd had made him the 4-5 favorite and even the azure skies and windless afternoon with a 70-degree temperature couldn’t keep those gathered from stirring. They hadn’t expected the jump-start firebrand to fall back. He wasn’t a come-from-behind type. And he was the odds-on favorite.

As the smallish field smoothly entered the stretch, Bridgetown moved away from the rail and joined Chamberlain Bridge for a belated bid at the lead of Great Mills.

Castellano prodded his horse. And the rider was rewarded when Bridgetown accelerated to the outside of Great Mills and then inched on away to a two-length win.

A come-from-behind win for a son of Speightstown is not an every-year sight. Those whose $2 faith in Bridgetown was rewarded with a $3.40 payoff were subdued when they quietly applauded the winner’s circle ceremony that took place on the grass course.

Owner Melnyk came to Canada from the Ukraine, but now resides in Barbados. He owns the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League. His thoroughbred operations are headquartered in Ocala at 1,100-acre Winding Oaks Farm. There are 200 thoroughbreds in his racing and breeding stock.

Melnyk is a part-owner of Speightstown, the copper-colored paragon of sprinters who stands at stud at WinStar Farm just outside Lexington.

Speightstown’s progeny have won more purse money in 2012 than any thoroughbred in the country. Maybe that’s why his stud fee is still $50,000 per live birth.

Should Bridgetown go to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint — and win it — he would be Melnyk’s first-ever champion. He has had horses that finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and Breeders’ Cup Classic . . . but he has never had a first-place champion when the racing world comes from Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and Canada for the Breeders’ Cup weekend. It was Bridgetown that was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Todd Pletcher and his assistants are Melnyk’s trainers. There have been 186 starts this year by Melnyk’s thoroughbreds. The wins are 39 in number. There have been 34 seconds and 29 thirds. Those 186 races have gleaned $2,188,281 in winnings.

Bridgetown has raced six times this year. The Woodford was his third win. The two seconds and one third-place helped him claim $307,965 in winnings.

Bridgetown is unmistakenly a son of Speightstown. His chestnut coat is almost the identical dark copper color as is his father’s. His body shape is the same and his stride has the same long and silky-smooth flowing motion.

Bridgetown has the same white blaze extending the length of his head that his father has. And if he is going to start winning stakes races, his brilliant physical appearance could make him a late-career star, especially in California.

Winning the Grade III Woodford won’t make Bridgetown one of the favorites if he is tried at Santa Anita in a Breeders’ Cup race. But the people in Barbados will line up in his corner.

At least he proved tractable and a willing subject when a different strategy was tried.

He’s still a short-sprint competitor. But he just might be able to be rated off the lead in other races that could see him sweep by the leaders and proceed on to win a seven or eight-furlong race.

WinStar can market his win in the Woodford. And a few more such successes could bring him to that same farm where his father stands stud.

 

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