Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

Sovereign Duty Closes For The Win At Keeneland

Danielle Hodsdon times a perfect finish in Kentucky.

Sovereign Duty proved worthy of his lofty pedigree as he won the $160,125 Royal Chase grade I hurdle handicap in a nailbiter at Keeneland, April 17 in Lexington, Ky.

Owned by Hudson River Farms, the 6-year-old son of multiple Grade I winner Kingmambo had never really fired until last November when he came out of nowhere to place third in the $150,000 Colonial Cup (S.C.).
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Danielle Hodsdon times a perfect finish in Kentucky.

Sovereign Duty proved worthy of his lofty pedigree as he won the $160,125 Royal Chase grade I hurdle handicap in a nailbiter at Keeneland, April 17 in Lexington, Ky.

Owned by Hudson River Farms, the 6-year-old son of multiple Grade I winner Kingmambo had never really fired until last November when he came out of nowhere to place third in the $150,000 Colonial Cup (S.C.).

Then a decisive win at the Carolina Cup (S.C.) in March in the $30,000 allowance hurdle put him on the map, and trainer Jonathan Sheppard thought the Keeneland race might suit him.

With veteran Polaris Stables’ Preemptive Strike out with heat in his tendon, the race scratched down to six evenly matched stakes horses. Preemptive Strike’s abrupt absence also took out any speed in the race, and when the flag fell, the horses barely crawled around the track.

Sovereign Duty’s jockey Danielle Hodsdon positioned herself within striking distance of the leaders, Calvin Houghland’s Sweet Shani (Xavier Aizpuru) and EMO Stable’s Orison (Matt McCarron).

As they turned for home, Sarah Jeffords Radcliffe’s Best Attack (Carl Rafter) suddenly sprinted ahead, and it looked like he might have some reserves. But the New Zealand-bred Sweet Shani was not showing any signs of slowing, and the two battled over the last few fences.

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At this point, Hodsdon saw an opening and asked a little more of her charge, passing Best Attack in a blistering dash and giving Sweet Shani something new to chase. By the wire, only a neck separated the two stablemates, and Sovereign Duty had his first Grade I victory. Best Attack placed third, more than 5 lengths back, and Orison picked up fourth-placed money.

A Lack Of Speed

Carl Rafter, who rode Best Attack into third place, said that although Preemptive Strike is a formidable speed horse, he wished the chestnut had been in the Royal Chase.

“He [Best Attack] missed a couple of fences only because we were going so slow,” Rafter said. “The long spot was there, but we didn’t have the momentum to get over it. If Preemptive had been there we would have galloped along at a genuine pace, and it would have been a true run race. It ended up being a serious sprint in the end, and it did not necessarily suit my horse.”

“I figured the one other horse in the race that has an equal close to mine would be Best Attack,” Hodsdon said. “Early on, I was trying to stay off of Sweet Shani and make sure she had the easiest lead as possible, and I was not going to use my horse up to get to her. I left her alone as long as I could, then Carl went by with Best Attack with two fences to go and it set up perfectly from there.”

Rafter, who finished third aboard Best Attack, had a unique perspective of Hodsdon’s race: “When we were up with Sweet Shani, I certainly did not think I would see Danielle again. It was pretty amazing she caught the mare. I thought she gave her horse a brilliant ride. She must have made up 5 lengths in 10 strides.”

Originally bought by Overbrook Farm at the Keeneland sales in 2003 for $425,000, Sovereign Duty never made more than $2,000 on the flat, and he was sold to start a steeplechasing career in 2006.

Hodsdon, who also won the Royal Chase last year aboard William Pape’s Mixed Up, said Sovereign Duty arrived at the farm with a few issues.

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“He always has been a nice horse,” Hodsdon said. “When we got him he had no confidence. He didn’t even work well. He wouldn’t even try. He is extremely intelligent. I don’t think he saw any point getting his head caved in. They expected him to be a really nice flat horse, and he was a late bloomer. We have spent a lot of time getting up his confidence, and when you put that in place with the obvious ability, it all works.”

 Sheppard also trains Sweet Shani. The 8-year-old mare is no stranger to running in mixed company in the United States and Australia, and in 2007 the big gray was second to Michael Moran’s McDynamo in the $300,000 Breeders’ Cup (N.J.).

“She really did herself proud,” Aizpuru said. “We didn’t want to turn it into a sprint, and she’s not a front runner. So she had to do it the hard way, and she very nearly got it done. Unfortunately, there was one too good for us. Obviously I was riding a completely different race with her and asking her to do something she has never had to do. She did not let herself down in any way.”


Back From Retirement

F. Lee McKinney’s Feeling So Pretty (Richard Boucher), who placed sixth, was vanned off after the race. The owner-trainer said her 14-year-old mare had a little heat exhaustion and cramping but was fine.
 
McKinney said she retired her mare in May 2007 to the breeding shed, but after it was discovered “she had ovaries the size of pencil erasers” she brought her back into work.

“She loves to jump,” McKinney said. “She gallops around her field jumping logs and the tall grass before I mow. It seemed a shame to retire her when she still is running well.”

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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