Kathleen O'Connell, second from left, celebrates her first Saratoga stakes win Aug. 3 with dazzling 3-year-old filly Lady Shipman after the Coronation Cup.
For the second time in three years, Tampa Bay Downs trainer Kathleen O’Connell is bringing a horse to the Breeders’ Cup.
Unlike two years ago, when her Scandalous Act finished a non-threatening sixth at Santa Anita in the Juvenile Fillies as a 15-1 shot, O’Connell’s 3-year-old, record-setting filly Lady Shipman is considered one of the leading contenders for Saturday’s $1-million Turf Sprint at Keeneland.
But O’Connell has been around long enough to appreciate the enormity of the task facing the Kentucky-bred speedster. She is the only female in the 14-horse field (Rumble Doll, one of two also-eligibles for the Turf Sprint, is a 4-year-old filly) and one of only four 3-year-olds.
“She (Lady Shipman) will be there with her ‘A’ game, because she always brings her ‘A’ game with her,” said O’Connell, who will begin shipping horses to Tampa Bay Downs next week for the resumption of the 2015-2016 meeting on Nov. 28. “But it is an awful big order for a 3-year-old filly to run against the best grass sprinters in the country, and older males at that.
“She is a very small filly who has a big stride and a big heart,” said O’Connell of Lady Shipman, who rewarded the veteran conditioner with her first Saratoga stakes victory this summer and set a course record in her following start at the venerable Spa. “She is a speed freak and a five-eighths mile specialist, but her mind has been her biggest attribute. She has the greatest demeanor in the world and can adapt to anything. She is a very special horse who loves to train, loves her job and always gives it her all.”
The Turf Sprint will be contested at five-and-a-half furlongs at 12:45 p.m. as the fourth race on Saturday’s card and will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs, along with Friday’s quartet of Breeders’ Cup races and Saturday’s full card. The showcase of the two-day Breeders’ Cup is Saturday’s $5-million Classic, featuring the showdown between Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time Breeders’ Cup champion Beholder.
Lady Shipman, who has never raced against members of the opposite sex, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., who earned his first Breeders’ Cup victory last year on Lady Eli in the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.
Among Lady Shipman’s competition in the Turf Sprint are two horses that previously competed at Tampa Bay Downs. Bobby’s Kitten, a 4-year-old colt who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita for owners Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey and trainer Chad Brown, won an open turf allowance in Oldsmar in his 3-year-old debut on March 8, 2014.
The 4-year-old gelding Green Mask, owned by Sheikh Abdullah Saeed Almaddah and trained by Wesley Ward, finished second in this year’s $100,000 Turf Dash in January.
Another horse with Tampa Bay Downs experience, the Arnaud Delacour-trained 6-year-old mare Ageless – who rallied to defeat Lady Shipman by a head in Keeneland’s Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at the Turf Sprint distance on Oct. 9 – will not compete after incurring a laceration to her left hock during the running of the race. She finished a fast-closing fourth in last year’s Turf Sprint.
Lady Shipman, who is owned by the Ranlo Investments LLC of her breeder, retired insurance executive Randall E. Lowe, has won eight of her 11 career starts, including six stakes, while setting two course records. It was almost three, as the time of 1:03.66 posted by Ageless three weeks ago was a course mark. Her career earnings are $358,800.
Lady Shipman served notice of her precocity in her second career start last November in a five-furlong maiden special weight turf sprint at O’Connell’s Gulfstream Park West base, drawing off to win by 11 ¼ lengths. Two starts later, she won the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sprint for fillies by eight lengths in track-record time of 1:08.80 for the six furlongs on the Ocala Training Center all-weather track.
Following turf stakes victories at Pimlico and Monmouth, Lady Shipman tackled older members of her sex for the first time in the Klassy Briefcase Stakes at Monmouth on July 12 and won as she pleased, cruising to a six-and-a-quarter length victory. Three weeks later, she won the Coronation Cup on the Saratoga turf against 3-year-olds for O’Connell’s first Saratoga stakes triumph.
Ortiz rode her for the first time four weeks later at the Spa, taking over for Eduardo Nunez, in the $100,000 Smart N Fancy Stakes against older rivals. After breaking on top, Ortiz settled her behind pace-setter Tahnee until the eighth pole, where he unleashed her devastating turn of foot.
The effort to rate the confirmed front-runner worked perfectly as Lady Shipman sped home in a Mellon Turf Course-record 1:00.46 for the five-and-a-half furlongs, two-and-three-quarter lengths ahead of the accomplished Ian Wilkes-trained Free as a Bird and four others. “She relaxed really well, and when I asked her she just took off and did it easy,” Ortiz told reporters afterward.
Lady Shipman worked five furlongs on Keeneland’s main dirt track in 1:03.20 Thursday, which was 20th-fastest of 22 workers – just perfect, according to O’Connell. “No one makes any money in the mornings, and that was as slow as we could get her to go,” O’Connell said. “She worked way too fast before her last start, and I think she was too souped-up” (for the defeat against Ageless).
O’Connell will head to Keeneland on Thursday from her Miami base to join Lady Shipman, who is being watched over by her main assistant, Brian Smeak, and his wife Terri. “We have the whole Tampa connection working, and she is in the best hands in the world. She likes short grass and a hard surface, and we can’t control that, but she always runs her race,” said O’Connell, a two-time Tampa Bay Downs training champion. “She has been a true professional who has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Lady Shipman is bred for Breeders’ Cup success: Her sire, Eclipse Award Champion 2-Year-Old Colt, Midshipman, won the 2008 Juvenile at Santa Anita, and he in turn is by the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, Unbridled’s Song.
Lady Shipman’s dam Sumthingtotalkabt never won above the allowance ranks, but her sire, Mutakddim (who died last year in Argentina), is a notable turf influence who was group-placed in Europe and has sired more than 100 stakes winners worldwide.
In an interview earlier this year with Thoroughbred Daily News, Lowe said he elected to keep Sumthingtotalkabt as a broodmare based on her strong second-place finish in a Keeneland allowance to eventual Grade III winner Lady Belsara. He tried to sell Lady Shipman at last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company April sale of 2-year-olds, but the final bid of $35,000 was beneath her reserve and Lowe kept her.
Ryan Barbazon, the son of Pleasant Acres Farm owners Joe and Helen Barbazon in Morriston, Fla., where Lady Shipman was raised, was astounded by the lack of interest, especially since she had worked an eighth-of-a-mile in 9 4/5 seconds at the sales preview show. “Everyone liked how fast she was, but they knocked her for her size,” Ryan said after her OBS Sprint victory last January. “We gave her some time off after the sale, and she grew. We took our time with her, and it paid off.”
The Pleasant Acres team recommended to Lowe he employ O’Connell to train Lady Shipman, based on her numerous successes with the likes of 2011 Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go, Blazing Sword, Ivanavinalot, Shananie’s Beat, Lindsay Lane, Shananie’s Finale, Sheer Bliss, Fly by Phil and Scandalous Act. “I feel lucky to have her,” O’Connell said.
Two mares with Tampa Bay Downs experience are entered in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday: Stephanie’s Kitten and Hard Not to Like. The scheduled post time is 2:10 p.m.
The 6-year-old Stephanie’s Kitten, who won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and was second in last year’s Filly and Mare Turf, won this year’s Grade III Hillsborough Stakes on the turf in her only Tampa Bay Downs try. She is owned by the Ramseys and trained by Brown.
The multiple-Grade I winning 6-year-old Hard Not to Like finished first in the Grade III Endeavour Stakes here in January, but was disqualified and placed second behind Testa Rossi for interference in the stretch. Hard Not to Like is owned by Speedway Stable LLC and trained by Christophe Clement.