The race summary of Red Ruby’s Black-Eyed Susan win Friday is pretty simple: The 3-year-old gray filly waited out front-runner Coach Rocks until the final turn at Pimlico Race Course, then rocketed to the finish line for a 4 3/4-length victory.
The story of why the $250,000 Grade II race was Red Ruby’s first in over two months — that’s a little more complicated.
After breaking her maiden in her second attempt at Churchill Downs this past fall, the daughter of former American Horse of the Year Tiznow won Oaklawn Park’s Martha Washington Stakes on Feb. 10 before finishing fourth in the Honeybee Stakes (G3) at the Arkansas racetrack. Lexington, Ky.,-based trainer Kellyn Gorder was pointing Red Ruby for a start in theFantasy (G3) on April 13. She never got the chance.
Ten days before the race, Gorder was short-handed one morning. An employee was out sick. Red Ruby had already galloped and was cooling down in the shedrow at Oaklawn’s barn, but two more of Gorder’s horses needed to gallop before the racetrack closed. He took one horse, and a groom took the other.
Back in the shedrow, the horse in front of Red Ruby spooked and started running backwards. Red Ruby saw the horse coming at her, wheeled around and dragged her hot walker down into the middle of the barn, crashing into the metal ladder that leads up to the hayloft.
“I mean, we got really, really lucky,” Gorder recalled Friday, a glass-half-full evaluation of an incident that left Red Ruby with two cuts on both her right front leg and left hind leg and that required 13 stitches. The good news, though, was that her tendon sheaths, which facilitate the movement of the tendons and flexion of the limbs, had been spared.
For 16 days, Red Ruby sat in her stall while the superficial wounds healed. Gorder and the filly’s connections kept hope alive that she would be good to go for the May 4 Kentucky Oaks (G1), but Red Ruby was withdrawn the day before entries were taken for the $1 million prize.
“I still thought there was a chance,” Gorder said, “but I just didn't think it was the right thing to do.”
Gorder had kept Red Ruby’s workout schedule light entering Friday, with only two sessions total. But the trainer remembered that in the Honeybee, Red Ruby had all but “run her race” in the post parade, when horses move from the paddock, past the stands and to the starting gate. So on Friday morning, Gorder had her gallop on the muddy track.
A half-day later, Red Ruby looked like the most well-rested horse in the field. With jockey Paco Lopez aboard for the first time, the filly hung back behind morning-line favorite Coach Rocks until the two had separated from the seven other horses in their wake. In the homestretch, Red Ruby pulled ahead, needing little urging from Lopez over the sloppy 1 1/8 miles.
“I put her second and she was very comfortable,” he said. “I looked and no one was coming. I said, ‘I got to go,’ and she finished very well today.
“I knew I had that much horse and I was waiting for somebody to show up, but they never showed up, so I let her go.”
Coach Rocks hung on for second, while 11-1 long shot Indy Union finished in third.
Note: Red Ruby’s payout for the main event was $7.80 to win, $4.00 to place and $3.20 to show. … An announced 48,265 attended Friday’s 14-race Black-Eyed Susan program, the second-largest crowd in its 94-year history. Last year, an announced 50,339 were on hand. The total handle for the afternoon was $18.591 million, down 6 percent from last year ($19.895 million), owing partly to the removal of four turf races.