If pace does indeed make the race, then space certainly goes a long way toward making the racehorse.
Space, not the outer variety that gets you thinking of Star Trek but rather the amount of time between starts, is indeed the key to many of racing’s very best runners. Too little of it and there’s not enough recovery. Too much and there might be some rust left over when it counts most.
Aubby K, favored in Saturday’s Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park, likes space between starts.
How much space depends on circumstances. After two solid starts at 2 – a debut win at Belmont Park and a fourth in the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs-she went to the bench for nearly five months and came back with a powerful victory in her 3-year-old bow. Three summer stakes appearances followed and she went to the sidelines again, this time for nearly seven months and when she came back she throttled the field and won her first graded stakes in the Grade 2 Inside Information at Gulfstream.
That was earlier this season and Aubby K since tacked on a professional score in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Stakes on Kentucky Derby day. That win was eight weeks ago and whether there’s enough space between that race and the Chicago will be found out after however long it takes to navigate the 7 furlongs over the Polytrack.
Jack Heissenbuttel, assistant to trainer Ralph Nicks and overseeing Aubby K since she shipped north to Saratoga shortly after the Humana Distaff, thinks its enough space. So, too, does Nicks, otherwise they might have waited to run the 4-year-old Street Sense filly in the Aug. 23 Ballerina Stakes another eight weeks down the road.
“She tries so hard that she tears herself up and you’ve got to give her time,” said Heissenbuttel outside his seasonal rental on White Street late Friday morning, held up on his way to grab a quick lunch and get some laundry done. “She’s one of those fillies that needs time. She’ll tell you when she’s ready to run.”
Aubby K is showing her people she’s ready to run and thus the trek to Arlington. It wasn’t in the original plan, but looking at the space now it seems just about perfect.
“There’s really nothing else out there,” Heissenbuttel said. “The other option would be the Princess Rooney at Calder and what’s that, July 4? And it’s a 24-hour van ride. If they had planes going here, there and everywhere it would be a lot easier to get them around.”
So how will she do after the shorter trek to the Midwest?
“She’s been doing good. She keeps herself fit pretty much,” Heissenbuttel said. “And she hasn’t done too too much since she’s been here. Lots of jogging. I think she’s only had two breezes since she’s been up here. More miles than speed type stuff.
“I think she’ll run well. I was handicapping the race the other day. It’s a weird race to handicap. There’s a lot of speed. Turf horses, dirt horses, Poly horses. It looks like a crapshoot. Hopefully she’ll handle the track well and run her race.”
Aubby K is one of eight horses Nicks sent to Saratoga early with Heissenbuttel and as a multiple graded stakes winner fresh off a Grade 1 on the biggest racing day of the year in the U.S. it’s not surprising she knows her place.
“She thinks she’s the only horse in the barn,” Heissenbuttel said. “She thinks that, well, everyone spoils her in the barn first of all, so she thinks she’s the only one in there. She walks where she wants to, kind of kicks at you if you get too close. Especially close to race time. But she’s got a great personality. A very smart filly.
“She’s acting that way probably more so this year. She’s always been kind of, ‘I’ll show you that I can kick you but I won’t type fillies.’ If you’re walking close to her, she’ll turn her ass and show that you she could, but she never does. She just wants you to know that she’s the boss.”