Promises Fulfilled joins good rivalry in Phoenix Stakes
Courtesy of Byron King of DRF.com
One day before Roy H and Ransom the Moon face each other Saturday in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, Whitmore and Limousine Liberal get this unofficial rivalry week started when they meet for the fifth time in Friday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Phoenix on opening day at Keeneland.
With each horse having defeated the other twice, the Phoenix represents the rubber match between Whitmore and Limousine Liberal, though more is on the line than bragging rights. The six-furlong Phoenix serves as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, awarding the winner an expenses-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
Joining them in the six-horse lineup is Promises Fulfilled, one of the top 3-year-old sprinters in the country who won the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens on Aug. 25 at Saratoga, and three longshots in Distinctive B, Heartwood, and Dalmore. Reflecting how closely matched the race seems among the three favorites, Promises Fulfilled was assigned morning-line odds of 8-5, with Whitmore a tick higher at 9-5 and Limousine Liberal right behind at 2-1.
The head-to-head matchups between Whitmore and Limousine Liberal illustrate the competitiveness of their rivalry. Three of their four meetings have been decided by 1 1/2 lengths or less, and two of these races came down to photo finishes. Whitmore edged Limousine Liberal by a neck in the Phoenix last year, when they were first and third, while Limousine Liberal prevailed by that same margin this summer in the Belmont Sprint Championship, where they ran one-two.
Often, the decision came down to which runner received the better trip. Most recently, Whitmore capitalized by slipping up the inside in the Grade 1 Forego on Aug. 25 at Saratoga, defeating Limousine Liberal, who was a wide third.
Both horses share an apparent liking for the Keeneland surface, with Whitmore having won his only start over it in last year’s Phoenix and Limousine Liberal holding the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs of 1:15.05, set in winning an allowance in April 2016. That represents his only win from six starts at Keeneland, though a number of near misses came along the way, including a second, beaten a nose, in the 2016 Phoenix, in which A. P. Indian set the six-furlong track record of 1:08.43.
“I think he loves Churchill, but he might be even better at Keeneland,” said Limousine Liberal’s trainer, Ben Colebrook. “He’s got one track record here and got nosed out of another. … It just seems everything goes his way at Churchill, and nothing does at Keeneland.”
Jose Ortiz retains the mount aboard Limousine Liberal, a 6-year-old gelded son of Successful Appeal owned by Katherine Ball.
Ron Moquett, who trains Whitmore and owns him with Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, has enjoyed the rivalry with Limousine Liberal. “These are just two really cool horses that push each other to run their best,” he said.
Having acknowledged that, Moquett knows that besides Whitmore having to deal with the expected late challenge of Limousine Liberal, his horse must catch the speedy Promises Fulfilled, something no 3-year-old could do this summer at Saratoga in either the H. Allen Jerkens or the Amsterdam.
These three horses – whose connections have all said they remain under consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as well as the Sprint – worked last Friday, though thick fog prevented clockers from timing those breezes. Promises Fulfilled and Whitmore worked at Churchill Downs, while Limousine Liberal worked at Keeneland.
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