Picture of Big Bend on Main Frame by Reed Palmer Photography
Trainer Tom Proctor might have known he was taking a big chance when he entered and saddled his Big Bend — a 3-year-old colt that has been prominently mentioned in our “Workout Reports” and a member of our “Horses To Watch” roster since early this year — for the Dueling Grounds Derby.
After all, it was a rather aggressive placement for the colt, who just won his second career race in an Allowance and Optional Claimer at Delaware Park on July 13 in his last start, and he was now facing Stakes horses for the very first time.
Or, more likely, Tom Proctor — a wily trainer with an expert eye for a good horse — might have had a big idea that he was training a very nice horse.
Either way, Proctor knows a big chance when he sees one. And, on Sunday afternoon, he saw one, when Big Bend dug in, and dragged jockey Drayden Van Dyke to an thrilling victory in the $350,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs in little Franklin, Ky.
Parlor, who looked to have all the momentum and every chance in the world to pass the leader in deep stretch, could never get by Proctor’s colt, and had to settle for second, with rider Julien Leparoux in the saddle.
It was a great victory for the entire team, including Van Dyke — who was celebrating his birthday.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Van Dyke after the race. “He gave me everything he had. When that other horse came to me, he just kept digging down and giving me more. I didn’t know what might happen, but I know he was going to give me everything he had.”
And, everything Big Bend had proved to be enough — by inches. But by enough. The son of Union Rags and the Broad Brush mare Lenatareese, now has 3 wins, 1 second and a third in 9 lifetime starts. He more than doubled his career earnings with the victory.
In the other major stakes on the Sunday card, the outcome was not nearly as surprising or as thrilling.
Daddys Lil Darling Picture by Reed Palmer Photography
Daddys Lil Darling, who has had an eventual trip or two since her impressive second place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, had another one on Sunday — what with running over the hills and dales of what is the turf surface at Kentucky Downs.
But unlike her journey across the pond, where she was supposed to run at Royal Ascot before she dumped her rider in the post parade and then ran off unfettered, the talented 3-year-old filly saved all her running for the race on Sunday. And, run she did.
Daddys Lil Darling, a daughter of Scat Daddy ridden by the meet’s top jockey in Julie Leparoux, ran off to an easy and impressive 41/4-length victory over Summer Luck and rider Jose Ortiz in the $200,000 Stakes. Another 3/4-length back in third was La manta Gris, with Jose Lezcano in the saddle.
After her long journey and short non-race at Royal Ascot, Daddy’s Lil Darling, who is trained by Kenny McPeek, was brought back to the states and the McPeek barn, but didn’t fare real well in either of her two official starts since the Oaks.
She ran fourth in the Belmont Oaks at Belmont and then followed that up with a dull fifth in the Coaching Club American Oaks, back on the dirt, on July 23 at Saratoga. But as her trainer took off for Korea, where he was saddling The Truth or Else, the filly was shipped to little Kentucky Downs, just a furlong or two south of Bowling Green.
And, Daddys Lil Darling turned what many thought would be a real horse race into a real horse showing. After stalking from the mudpack throughout much of the race, the filly kicked it into gear going through the second turn and took over with authority just inside the quarter pole.
From there, it was all air.
“I was just a passenger out there,” said Leparoux, in an interview on the Kentucky Downs simulcast after the race. “She was nice and settled and when I asked her, she just took over. It was the first time I rode her over the grass and I didn’t really know what to expect, but she really seemed to love it.”