A year ago, Shared Account arrived at Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf as an outsider. Oddsmakers made her a 46-1 long shot, and her response was to win.
This year, she's back to defend her title in the $2 million Grade I race. Do the oddsmakers love her?
Not exactly. They've given her 30-1 morning-line odds, a fact that has Sagamore Farm general manager Tom Mullikin sending out a warning.
"The field is deep, and it's another tough ask of her," Mullikin said. "Everyone knows it's harder to repeat than to win the first one. But I think people should look at the history. She was 46-to-1 last year and she won. We'll forever remember last year, and anything more will be icing. But I think some folks shouldn't discount [trainer] Graham Motion or Shared Account. She seems to be back to her old self going in to this race."
Last year, Shared Account became the biggest underdog to win in race history. It was also the biggest win for the restored Sagamore Farm in the modern era, thrilling owner Kevin Plank.
The Under Armour CEO bought Sagamore, once owned by the Vanderbilt family, in 2007 and set out to restore the farm and its reputation. Sagamore had been built on the legs and bloodlines of Native Dancer, Discovery and Bed o' Roses.
Shared Account was Sagamore's first Breeders' Cup starter.
When the horse won, Plank said he hoped it would inspire Maryland horsemen at a time when thoroughbred racing in the state was struggling. And, in some ways, Shared Account's victory might have done that.
At least it seemed to start a run of success among Maryland horsemen that has carried beyond the state.
Graham Motion's Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby, and King Leatherbury's Ben's Cat won a Breeders' Cup qualifying race, though the trainer has chosen not to go. Towson native Robert Cole Jr. owns Rapid Redux, who recently tied the North American record for consecutive victories at 19 in a race at Laurel Park. And trainer Michael Matz, who became known for training ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, has two young horses in the Breeders' Cup, taking him on his first trip there since Round Pond won the Ladies' Classic in 2006.
Motion believes the win drew positive attention to the state and "makes other trainers hopeful" they can have success in big races and produce strong horses in Maryland.
"Any success within Maryland has to have a positive impact, if for no other reason than it brings attention to the state's horsemen," Motion said. "Shared Account belongs to Sagamore. He's trained at Fair Hill. There are a lot of positive implications for Maryland in Shared Account."
But at Churchill Downs, Shared Account will evidently need to turn in a repeat performance if she wants her share of that respect.
She'll start from the No. 9 post with jockey Edgar Prado back in the saddle.
Shared Account entered last year's Breeders' Cup race off a fifth-place finish in the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park. This time, the 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect mare has arrived off a sixth-place finish in the Grade II Canadian at Woodbine, a result that has Motion feeling confident.
"There will be skeptics," said Motion, who also sent 27-1 long shot Better Talk Now to victory in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf. "I wouldn't blame them. But I see her every day. She gives me every indication of being ready."
Shared Account has come a long way since running in the Gallorette on Preakness weekend last May, when she carried 125 pounds — a minimum of 10 pounds more than her seven competitors — and finished fourth.
"There's not a kinder, gentler horse, and that's an unusual trait for a real competitive race horse," Motion said as he watched Shared Account work at Fair Hill one morning last week. "After the year she's had, she'll be at a price. But the year she's had is not her fault."
Motion points to the weight she carried in the Gallorette. It was just 1 pound more than she carried at last year's Breeders' Cup, but it was the difference that mattered, forcing her to work much harder than the others in the field to cover the same ground. He and Mullikin both also mentioned the "rough" Pimlico turf course.
"There were a lot of humps and waves in the turf course," Mullikin said. "She bobbled twice and at the head of the lane she almost went down."
It was no easy chore for the light-boned bay.
"After the Gallorette, we had to start over with her," Motion said. "She got all jammed up, which means she was moving very stiffly for no particular, obvious reason — like an athlete playing football gets excessively jarred sometimes. The only way to get her over it was to regroup.
"To be giving away 10 pounds in her first race back after the Breeders' Cup. I'm not blaming anyone. I believe handicapping should be done away with all together. But I chose the race. I wish, in hindsight, I had had a Plan B. You need to leave yourself a window to change your mind."
Plan A since the day after Shared Account won at the Breeders' Cup has been to get back to it.
Now that she's there, all she has to do is pull off another major upset.
Breeders' Cup World Championships
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
When: Friday and Saturday
TV: Friday — 4 p.m.-8 p.m. on ESPN2 (Shared Account will run in the Filly & Mare Turf at 6:50 p.m.)
Saturday — 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. on chs. 2, 7 and 3:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Outlook: Marylanders will have much to root for in this weekend's Breeders' Cup races, as four trainers with local ties will take nine horses to the event and another two Maryland breds will also compete.
Fair Hill Training Center-based Michael Matz, who caught the public's attention as the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, has two young horses in competition who are receiving favorable attention.
Matz's entries are Union Rags, the morning-line favorite in the Grade I Juvenile for 2-year-olds, and Somali Lemonade, the second favorite in the Grade II Juvenile Fillies (Turf).
"I'm very excited about the Breeders' Cup," said Matz, who was last there in 2006 with Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Round Pond. "They've both done everything we've asked. Neither one has lost yet."
Maryland native Tony Dutrow sends Grace Hall to post in the Grade I Juvenile Fillies (Dirt) as the second favorite.
Graham Motion has five entries: Shared Account, the defending champ in the Grade I Filly and Mare Turf; Aruna, also in the Filly and Mare Turf; Lucky Chappy and State of Play in the Grade I Juvenile Turf; and Hoofit in the Grade ll Turf Sprint.
And Mike Pino, who also trains at Fair Hill, has Perfect Officer going in the Grade II Turf Sprint (Turf).
Maryland-bred Ask the Moon will run in the Grade l Ladies Classic. The 6-year-old was sired by Malibu Moon, who stood at Country Life Farm at the time, and she won the Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel Park as a 2-year old.
And Havelock, another horse bred in the state, will race in the Turf Sprint. He is a son of Great Notion, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake.