From the first time she laid eyes on her 2-year-old filly Scandalous Act, two-time leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O’Connell has been nothing but impressed.
After watching her sweep the three-race Florida Stallion Stakes series two weeks ago at Calder Race Course in Miami with an overpowering victory in the $300,000 My Dear Girl, O’Connell believes the time has come to unleash Scandalous Act on the biggest stage of all.
On Sunday, Scandalous Act and O’Connell will depart for Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., and next weekend’s 30th renewal of the Breeders’ Cup – Thoroughbred racing’s two-day extravaganza featuring the world’s finest horses in training. Scandalous Act will compete in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the first race on Saturday’s program. It will be O’Connell’s first Breeders’ Cup start.
Five Breeders’ Cup races will be contested Friday and nine on Saturday, culminating with the $5-million Classic. Post time for the Juvenile Fillies on Saturday is 12:05 p.m. (3:05 Eastern Daylight Time). All 14 races will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs.
“I’m very proud of her and very happy for the owner, Mr. (Gilbert) Campbell,” said O’Connell, who started training in 1981 and recorded career victory No. 1,500 at Tampa Bay Downs last season with This One’s for Mel, also bred and then-owned by Gilbert and Marilyn Campbell’s Stonehedge Farm South.
“She (Scandalous Act) showed she was special from the very beginning.”
Scandalous Act, by former Campbell stallion Act of Duty out of Seductive Lady, won’t have an easy time getting to California. She will leave Fort Lauderdale on Sunday on a Federal Express cargo plane to Memphis, Tenn., then board another FedEx flight to Los Angeles Sunday night, about four hours after arrival in Memphis. She will be accompanied throughout her travels by a Stonehedge Farm employee.
“There is really no easy way to get there,” said O’Connell, who will join Scandalous Act at the Breeders’ Cup stakes barn Monday. “It is not the perfect scenario and I feel it might compromise my horse, but Mr. Campbell has been in the business a long time. If he is game to try, I am too. And (Scandalous Act) has stepped up to the plate to earn her chance.”
The Campbells, who live in Tyngsboro, Mass., will join the entourage later in the week.
Scandalous Act will be ridden in the Juvenile Fillies by Eduardo Nunez, her jockey in four of her five starts. “There isn’t anybody who knows the horse as well as he does,” O’Connell said.
Scandalous Act has proved she deserves the chance to compete against the likes of Grade I winners Sweet Reason, Artemis Agrotera, My Conquestadory, Secret Compass and She’s a Tiger. She is 4-for-5 on the racetrack, and her smallest margin of victory was her 5 ¾-length triumph on Oct. 12 in the My Dear Girl, run at the Juvenile Fillies distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
“She was under pressure for a good part of that race, and she was good enough to shake off all of the challenges,” O’Connell said.
Scandalous Act had won her previous start, the $125,000 Susan’s Girl Stakes, seven weeks earlier by almost nine lengths with Antonio Gallardo in the saddle. That came on an afternoon when O’Connell posted four victories, including three stakes (all four horses are owned by the Campbells).
Scandalous Act’s only defeat came in the J J’s Dream Stakes in June, when she got off to a poor start and never recovered. Other than that race, she has led virtually every step of the way every time out.
“The greatest thing about her, to me, is she has a very good mind,” O’Connell said. “That is a very important component, especially for younger horses.
“She has a lot of natural ability,” O’Connell said. “The best analogy I can think of is watching four couples on the dance floor who all look fine, but one stands out because they do it with more ease and confidence. That is what she reminds me of. She is a nice horse to be around.”
The Campbells have been sending quality horses to O’Connell for years, including such top stakes winners as Blazing Sword, 2011 Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go and Fly by Phil. Watch Me Go competed in the Kentucky Derby.
Still another Campbell-O’Connell charge, Ivanavinalot, appeared to be headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Arlington Park in Chicago in 2002 after winning the My Dear Girl Stakes by almost 14 lengths. But she developed an infection a couple of days after her winning effort and had to miss the trip. Now, 11 years later, it appears the Campbell-O’Connell team will get a shot at Breeders’ Cup glory.
Although some of the other trainers with entrants in the Juvenile Fillies are named Bob Baffert, Steven Asmussen, Doug O’Neill and Mark Casse, don’t look for O’Connell or Scandalous Act to back off.
“I have a lot of respect for everybody’s horse,” said the Odessa, Fla., resident. “I know mine, and I have a very nice horse. We need to stay healthy and ship well and have her like the surface, which is asking a lot” (all five of Scandalous Act’s starts have been at Calder).
“A lot of nice horses come out of Florida. The state has a strong breeding program and I like it to get respect when we deserve it.”
The Campbells and O’Connell also considered pre-entering unbeaten 2-year-old filly Secret Kitten in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, but her absence of graded-stakes earnings made it doubtful she would draw into the race, so they are leaving her home.
Awesome Feather, bred in Florida by Fred Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm Inc., won the 2010 Breeders’Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs. Awesome Feather won her first 10 starts before finishing sixth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.