Ben Colebrook dreamed about days like Saturday at Keeneland.
He’d competed in Grade 1s several times in his six-plus years as a trainer. Most of those tries came with the multiple graded stakes-winning gelding Limousine Liberal, whose only misfortune came running career-best efforts in losing causes at the top level.
Ignacio Correas IV held similar dreams, starting in his native country and then after coming to the U.S. in 2001. He won at the highest level in Argentina – five times in fact – and participated in many top races as an assistant and trainer himself without a breakthrough victory.
The fortunes of both men, stabled for all or nearly all of the year in Lexington, changed during Keeneland’s FallStars Weekend that felt more like a midsummer festival than a autumn slate of key Breeders’ Cup prep races thanks to balmy temperatures in the Bluegrass.
Colebrook earned his first Grade 1 in surprising style, sending out the Maryland-bred, Korean-owned Knicks Go to victory in the $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity.
Dismissed as the longest price in the field of 13 2-year-olds at 70-1, Knicks Go led from the start under Albin Jimenez and romped by 5 1/2 lengths. The victory locked up a spot in next month’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Colebrook couldn’t hide his emotions after the Paynter colt’s victory, his second from four starts. He choked up first when interviewed on the track by Nick Luck of the NBC Sports Network immediately after the race and again walking to the Director’s Room with a group of reporters after the winner’s presentations on the turf course.
“That’s pretty special,” Colebrook said. “I didn’t really expect it today. I thought the horse would run good but he exceeded all our expectations for sure.”
Knicks Go paid the biggest mutuel of the day and wound up as one of four upset winners of the five stakes, along with Next Shares ($48.80) in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, Golden Mischief ($11) in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America and A Raving Beauty ($8.40) in the Grade 1 First Lady. Bucchero saved the day for chalkplayers, winning a second straight Grade 2 Woodford as the 3-1 favorite.
Knicks Go’s price didn’t matter much to Colebrook, who took out his license in 2012 and won three races in his first full season as a trainer in 2013.
“I’m not a bettor; I put my time and effort up,” Colebrook said in the tunnel. “A lot of people discounted him, it was a tough kind of field, the favorite (Hopeful winner Mind Control) scratching probably changed things a little bit and there were a lot of good horses in there. We got a beautiful trip. Albin stole the race, just a beautiful ride.”
Colebrook trains Knicks Go for the Korean Racing Association Stud Farm, which also owns recent Grade 1 Vosburgh runner-up Mr. Crow. The KRA purchased the colt for $87,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Bred by Angie Moore and out of the Outflanker mare Kosmo’s Buddy, Knicks Go originally sold as a weanling for $40,000 to Northface Bloodstock at the 2016 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
The KRA considered selling Knicks Go at the OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training. He didn’t perform well on the OBS Training Center’s synthetic surface and scratched out of the sale. Knicks Go came into the Breeders’ Futurity off a third on Arlington Park’s Polytrack synthetic surface last time out in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.
“He didn’t seem to really relish the track there at all last time,” Colebrook said. “He trained like a good horse. They bought him back out of the OBS sale, which kind of was a blessing in disguise. His work on the synthetic down there wasn’t what the buyers were looking for. They (scratched) and we got him in the barn and got very lucky. We’re privileged to have a horse like that.”
Correas felt much the same after sending out Merriebelle Stable’s Blue Prize to victory in Sunday’s Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, the Argentinean-bred mare’s fourth victory at Keeneland from eight tries.
He thanked Merrebelle’s John Moores and Charles Noell for sending the daughter of Pure Prize to his barn prior to her 4-year-old season and for trusting a trainer not far removed from leaving his job as a private trainer for Sagamore Farm with only two horses in his care.
“It’s very special,” Correas said of his first North American Grade 1 score. “It’s also for the people who gave the filly to me. They trusted me with this filly that was a very expensive filly in my country. At the time they gave me this filly I don’t know that everybody would trust a trainer that had like 25, 30 horses at the time.
“I have to be very thankful and grateful to Merriebelle that they gave me the opportunity to train her.”
Like Colebrook, Correas came close in several Grade 1s in the past. He trained 2012 Preakness starter Tiger Walk and nearly won the 2016 Arlington Million with Kasaqui. Correas also sent out Dona Bruja to a second-place finish in the Grade 1 First Lady Saturday.
“It’s not easy to win Grade 1s. Only Chad Brown makes it look easy,” Correas joked to a group of reporters after the Spinster.
Blue Prize didn’t make it look easy, either. She raced in eighth position early after jockey Joe Bravo managed to save ground from the extreme outside post in the field of 11 fillies and mares. Blue Prize made steady progress toward the front up the backstretch and around the far turn before taking the lead in the stretch.
Ahead by 2 lengths with a furlong to run Blue Prize looked home free until she veered out, losing ground and opening up a huge hole on the inside for eventual runner-up Champagne Problems. Bravo kept the mare together late and they held on by three-quarters of a length.
“I said ‘be careful, when she gets on the lead and has a long way to go she might get bored,’ ” Correas said. “It caught me by surprise, too. Thank God there’s a happy ending. Everything finished well.”
Blue Prize still requires a supplement to run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff even though the Spinster guaranteed her spot in the race as a “Win and You’re In” event. Correas relishes the idea of bringing the mare back to Churchill, where she’s 3-for-5 with two seconds.
Even more so he relished the opportunity to shine on the home stage, winning one of Keeneland’s signature races in front of a large and appreciative crowd.
“It’s very important and I’m very thankful,” he said. “We’re thankful for this country, that if you work hard you get an opportunity. I’m very thankful for the team that I have, for the people that surround me and for the effort my family put with me to get here. It wasn’t one day, it was 18 years of hard working. Not all the time was very pretty.
“I also have to be thankful to Lexington. This is my second time in Lexington. Most of the people don’t know that my first time I was completely unknown, it was always a city that welcomed me very well and that’s why I came back. When I didn’t have a job I said, ‘I’m going to go back to Lexington.’ I always felt this was home for me. I’m glad I did it and can’t be more thankful for a place like Keeneland, Lexington, Churchill, they’ve always treated me first class.”