Providing a strong sense of deja vu, Team Valor International and Mark Ford's Went the Day Well booked his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with a convincing victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. The Graham Motion pupil was emulating the heroics of stablemate Animal Kingdom, who likewise captured the 2011 Spiral en route to his historic Derby win for Team Valor.
John Velazquez, who famously picked up the mount on Animal Kingdom on the eve of the Derby, was aboard Went the Day Well for the first time in the Spiral. Engineering a textbook, ground-saving trip from just off the pace, Velazquez guided the son of Proud Citizen to a 3 1/2-length decision, which netted him $288,300 in all-important graded earnings.
"I was very impressed with him," Motion said. "Apart from a little greenness (in the stretch) he couldn't have been better. When Animal Kingdom won this race last year, he was very explosive, but this horse was a little explosive, too. I hate to compare the two because they are such different horses.
"The beauty of (the timing of) this race is you have the option to run him one more time or not run more time. Probably the only option (if he does run) is the Lexington Stakes (a Grade 3 at Keeneland April 21).
"I feel confident telling you this horse will run in the Kentucky Derby," Motion continued.
Like Animal Kingdom, Went the Day Well was also making his stakes debut in the Spiral. He was dispatched as the 5-1 third choice, with 2-1 favoritism going to the undefeated Heavy Breathing, and Handsome Mike rating as the 7-2 second pick.
Heavy Breathing figured to show speed, so it was no surprise that the Todd Pletcher colt secured the early lead. Less predictable, however, was the fact that the speedy Handsome Mike got away awkwardly and dropped back to the rear of the field.
As Heavy Breathing rattled off fractions of :23, :46 4/5 and 1:11 4/5 while stalked by Ill Conceived, Went the Day Well was tucked among horses, just a couple of lengths adrift. The eventual winner, who was always traveling well, angled out on the far turn and took off in pursuit. Also advancing markedly on the outside was Pletcher's other runner, Holiday Promise.
Went the Day Well accosted a tiring Heavy Breathing at the top of the stretch. Although clearly full of run, he raced greenly, and lurched as he switched onto his correct lead. Once organized, Went the Day Well put the race away with authority, and looked stronger the farther he went. Widening his margin through the final furlong, he completed 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack in 1:51 1/5 and returned $12.40, $6 and $4.40.
"I thought he was going to be a little bit farther back," Velazquez said, "but the track is playing pretty fast, so I didn't want to be too far back. He got a good position going into the first turn and I took advantage of that, saved all the ground, and then pulled him out at the quarter-pole.
"When he got to the lead he started waiting (on other horses) and lugging in, and then (he switched leads and) just went on," the rider added. "He still doesn't know very much. You can tell; as soon as he pulled out at the quarter-pole and he found himself on the lead, he didn't know what to do. So I just encouraged him to keep going forward. He did everything great today."
Runner-up Holiday Promise outran his 25-1 odds to best stablemate Heavy Breathing by a length.
"I thought (Heavy Breathing) held on very well considering the quick fractions, and I was pleased with his performance," said Pletcher, who said the colt's next step is undecided at this point.
"I was very happy with how Holiday Promise ran. I think he handled the (Polytrack) real well. Elliott Walden (president, CEO, and racing manager of owner WinStar Farm) and I are discussing shipping him to Keeneland and possibly running him in the Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 1 on April 14)."
Another two lengths astern came Handsome Mike, who closed for fourth. Stealcase, All Squared Away, Ill Conceived, Russian Greek, Tizanexpense, Red Jack, Mr. Prankster and Coach Royal rounded out the order of finish.
Went the Day Well's scorecard now stands at 5-2-2-0 with $321,644 in career earnings. Initially based in England, the bay was a terrific second in his two starts as a juvenile, both on turf. Team Valor then purchased the New York-bred privately and repatriated him. Went the Day Well was a useful fourth in his American debut for Motion, then broke his maiden impressively at Gulfstream Park last time out on March 3.
Bred by James Patrick Delaney, Went the Day Well is the first registered foal from the unraced Tiznow mare Tiz Maie's Day. His granddam, Grade 2 heroine Sweet Roberta, finished second in the 1989 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Her other descendants include Group 3 winner Duke of Venice.
Further back, Went the Day Well hails from the family of Cure the Blues, Sir Gaylord and 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat.