Two years ago, WinStar Farm's Super Saver captured the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, and the Todd Pletcher trainee went on to glory in the Kentucky Derby the following spring. Those same connections hope that history repeats itself, for on Saturday, WinStar's Gemologist accomplished the first half of that double in the $178,200 Kentucky Jockey Club. Under a stalk-and-pounce trip engineered by Javier Castellano, the promising juvenile edged away from 8-5 favorite Ever So Lucky to remain perfect from three starts.
"He came to us during the Saratoga meet," Pletcher said, "and each one of his works was progressively better. For a big horse that's bred to go longer, he showed some natural speed. He's just one of those horses that, every time you breezed him, he did everything right and just kind of kept getting better and better.
"It's always exciting when you have a good two-year-old turning three. It kind of gives you something to look forward to when you head south for the winter. We're always hoping to be back at Churchill in the spring."
"Everyone's been talking about the Derby," WinStar's Kenny Troutt said, "and it's very exciting to get the 'Derby fever.' This race is a great stepping stone for us."
Gemologist had gone wire to wire in his first two outings, so the 3-1 second choice showed a new dimension by rating just off the leaders on Saturday. Ever So Lucky took up the front-running role from his rail post, but after an opening quarter in :23 4/5, he was accosted by the maiden Seve. As Seve went clear through a half in :47 2/5, Ever So Lucky seized the opportunity to come off the fence and stalk in second. Gemologist continued to track patiently in third, watching the early developments unfold.
On the far turn, Ever So Lucky and Gemologist made their moves, and Seve commenced his retreat. Ever So Lucky, who regained the lead when reaching six furlongs in 1:12 3/5, was already under fierce pressure from Gemologist. The favorite fought hard on the inside, but Gemologist collared him in midstretch.
The farther they went, the stronger Gemologist looked, and the son of Tiznow was 1 3/4 lengths on top at the wire. After covering 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:44 2/5, Gemologist provided $8.60, $4 and $3.60 to his supporters.
"The horse ran well," assistant trainer Mike McCarthy said. "He ran like he trained. The race kind of unfolded like we thought it would. We thought (jockey) Julien (Leparoux)'s horse (Ever So Lucky) would go ahead and go (to the lead) coming off a short rest. It was a very professional effort from him (Gemologist) today."
"What I saw in there," Troutt observed, "was a horse get a lot of learning experience and still win a race. He had a little problem in the starting gate, but he broke well and relaxed. He went wide, but still won and looked like a very nice horse coming down the lane."
Castellano said that the momentary blip in the gate ended up being nothing.
"I think he just got a little anxious and he was ready to go," Castellano said. "He reared up and hit the gate with his legs, but thank God he didn't hit his head. He was very lucky.
"We had a beautiful trip. It was a dream trip. He's a really nice horse. Today he was very professional. He sat behind the leaders and targeted the speed. He responded when I asked him. He did it the right way today. I'm very lucky to ride nice horses like him."
Ever So Lucky salvaged second by a neck from the fast-closing Timely Tally. Optimizer checked in fourth, followed by Atigun, Africanist, Cyber Secret, Saint Honore, Seve, Fine and Mr. Prankster.
Gemologist, a $310,000 Keeneland November weanling purchase, has now earned $145,855. The bay colt rolled to a five-length score in his debut sprinting six furlongs over Turfway Park's Polytrack. Stretching out to two turns at Churchill on October 30, Gemologist led throughout en route to a two-length decision. That entry-level allowance/optional claiming victory came on the "Stars of Tomorrow I" program, and he duly followed up over the same track and trip in the Kentucky Jockey Club on "Stars of Tomorrow II."
"He beat a very good field and a very good horse in the Indian Charlie colt (Ever So Lucky)," WinStar President/CEO and Racing Manager Elliott Walden said. "He'll get a little bit of a breather and then we'll regroup and see where we go. I don't know if he'll come back to WinStar Farm (for the winter). We'll have to figure that out."
Pletcher is envisioning a two-prep plan next year, reminiscent of Super Saver.
"We'll give him a little bit of a break off that, and I'll get with Elliott, and we'll come up with a game plan," Pletcher said. "I'd say we'd try to follow a similar path -- hopefully two starts before the big race, if things go well."
Bred by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust, Gemologist is a half-brother to stakes scorer Clear Destiny. They were produced by the Mr. Prospector mare Crystal Shard, an unraced full sister to multiple Grade 2 queen Withallprobability, who is in turn the dam of multiple Grade 3 victress With Ability. This is the family of Grade 1-winning millionaire Summer Colony and Japanese champion Still in Love, winner of her nation's Filly Triple Crown.