Bumped and pinched back in a rowdy start to Sunday's $100,000 Bourbon S. (G3) at Keeneland, Catesby W. Clay's homebred ROGUE ROMANCE (Smarty Jones) would have had an ample excuse if he had failed to fire. Instead, the 3-1 favorite delivered a superb closing kick from the tail of the field to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths. With Julien Leparoux's patient guidance, the Ken McPeek pupil completed 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf in a smart 1:42 3/5, just a tick off the stakes record established by Gateman (GB) in 1999, and booked his spot in the November 6 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs.
"The Clays (Catesby W. Clay and Runnymede Farm) have bred some really good horses for us, going back to Tejano Run (winner of the 1994 Breeders' Futurity [G1] at Keeneland)," McPeek said. "There's a long list of them over the years. I'm just really happy for them. They're a wonderful group of people -- great to work for. Obviously, they brought a good horse to the game."
After Rogue Romance's troubled break, Leparoux allowed him to drop back to the rear and regroup, where he raced greenly and appeared to climb. Up front, Machisa (Safado) was rattling off fractions of :23 3/5, :48 3/5 and 1:13 1/5. Voodoo Storm (Storm Cat), who had been stalking in second, put his head in front leaving the far turn, but he was soon engulfed in midstretch. Just as Stormy Rush (Stormy Atlantic) collared Voodoo Storm, he was in turn collared by Cozy Kitten (Kitten's Joy), who launched a bold move to strike the front briefly between calls.
Then the blur that was Rogue Romance appeared down the center of the course. Having been angled out widest of all, Rogue Romance simply blew by Cozy Kitten, stormed clear under tender handling, and scored with an air of complete authority. The popular winner returned $8.80, $4.60 and $3.80 while keying the $41.60 exacta, $1,093 trifecta and $9,083 superfecta (7-2-4-11).
"I had the binoculars nailed on him," McPeek said, "and he was getting a lot of dirt in his face and he wasn't real happy about it. He was fighting the tongue tie in the paddock, so he's really green in the scheme of things, but obviously he's quick enough to win one."
Cozy Kitten yielded $5.60 and $4 as the 7-2 second choice, and his connections were talking Breeders' Cup as well.
"We're going to the Breeders' Cup with this one," owner/breeder Ken Ramsey said. "I'm really happy with how he ran. Obviously, I would be happier if he had won, but he still ran great and we're going to Churchill Downs."
The 82-1 Ocasta (Cherokee Run), who was also bumped at the start, rallied for third, 1 1/4 lengths adrift of Cozy Kitten, and paid $16.60. Stormy Rush reported home the same margin away in fourth. Monzon (Thunder Gulch), Voodoo Storm, Z Appeal (Ghostzapper), Mesonic (Sky Mesa), Moment of Weakness (Ire) (Big Bad Bob), Mont Ventoux (Borrego), Machisa and Forum (Roman Ruler). The also-eligibles Banned (Kitten's Joy) and Rough Sailing (Mizzen Mast) were withdrawn, with the latter having finished sixth in Saturday's Breeders' Futurity (G1).
Rogue Romance's victorious stakes debut improved his mark to 3-2-0-0, $93,150. Racing exclusively at 1 1/16 miles on turf so far, the chestnut finished an encouraging fourth to eventual Pilgrim S. (G3) winner Air Support (Smart Strike) at Saratoga on August 13, and returned to win handily by 2 3/4 lengths at the Spa on Labor Day.
"I had to make a decision whether I was going to run him in the (Breeders') Futurity (on Saturday) or here," McPeek revealed. "In all honesty, I was going to lose Julien (Leparoux, who rode fourth-place finisher Typhoon Slew [Stormy Atlantic] in the Futurity). I was going to lose him to another horse if I ran yesterday, so we decided to sit still and wait for this race today.
"Thought it might be a little easier, although I'm not convinced that grass is this colt's only game. I think he'll be fine on the dirt. He's got the two-turn thing down pat, no problem. He's obviously got a great turn of foot."
Bred by Clay and his Runnymede Farm in Kentucky, Rogue Romance was sold to Clay for $65,000 at Keeneland September. He is out of the winning Afleet mare Lovington, making him a half-brother to Grade 3 queen and $605,356 earner Savorthetime (Gilded Time), who won or placed in a total of 15 stakes; Grade 2-placed Tizbig (Tiznow); multiple stakes-placed Indy Mood for Luv (A.P. Indy); and a weanling filly by Medaglia d'Oro.
Lovington is herself a half-sister to the winning Onemiracleatatime (Gulch), the dam of this season's Arlington-Washington Lassie S. (G3) and Ontario Debutante S. victress Wonderlandbynight (Sky Mesa), who just finished fourth in Friday's Alcibiades S. (G1). This is the family of several sires -- Grade 1-winning millionaire Honour and Glory (Relaunch), multiple Grade 1 hero Ogygian (Damascus), and Grade 1 stars Fappiano (Mr. Prospector) and Quiet American (Fappiano).