By Paul Rolfes, for Kentucky Downs
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 11) — Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, chairman of Qatar Racing Ltd., has assembled an impressive streak of success at Kentucky Downs, and he’s not about to let it end.
For the third year in a row, a horse from his stable came back to the winner’s circle after the Franklin-Simpson Stakes. For this $600,000 fifth running of The Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Franklin-Simpson Stakes for 3-year-olds, it was The Lir Jet who jetted down the stretch for a 1 3/4-length victory with Tyler Gaffalione.
The last time The Lir Jet was competing in Kentucky, the results weren’t quite as pleasant. Last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland, he finished seventh. After spending the winter and spring in England, the Irish-bred was gelded and made his return to Kentucky worthwhile under the short tutelage of trainer Brendan Walsh.
“From the first year we won, I told Fergus (Galvin, his racing manager in the U.S.) that we wanted to go again,” said Sheikh Fahad, who made his first trip to Kentucky Downs for Saturday’s stakes. “And this year we figured out that this horse was ideal for this race. And to be honest, credit is due to Michael Bell, who trained the horse in England. I had a chat with him, and he said to me that he thought this horse would suit racing in America, and would suit Kentucky Downs. He said take him to America, and send him to one of your trainers over there.”
After a late-June race at Newmarket, The Lir Jet came into Walsh’s barn, with this 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2 race the target.
“I hadn’t had him a very long time, but he came to me in very good shape, made my job very easy,” Walsh said. “We just took him over when he got off the plane, and here we are.”
Gaffalione kept The Lir Jet within striking distance of the early speed, found a spot for him to get through on the inside, and let the gelding do the work down the long stretch.
“He broke sharp, grabbed a hold of the bit running up the hill,” Gaffalione said. “Even going down the hill he grabbed it a little more. I had to wait a little bit longer. He was taking me the whole way. As soon as a spot opened up, he accelerated and finished the job.”
Gaffalione said Walsh expressed some concern over the brief time to prepare. “He’s a nice horse,” Gaffalione said. “He’s only had him for a couple of weeks, so that was his only concern, but he said he’s got a ton of ability. Brendan does a fabulous job.
“He had a tremendous year last year as a 2-year-old,” he added. “He’s been a little off his form lately, but hopefully we can get him back on track after today.”
Overall, Walsh was satisfied with the 8-1 shot’s performance.
“I thought he was very impressive,” Walsh said. “It looked like he was always in control, got a great ride. It worked out great. Third year in a row for this man. It’s great to have him here. He’s a great supporter of ours, and it’s nice that he could come over and see the unique Kentucky Downs that it is.”
The Lir Jet paid $19.60, $9.80 and $7.20. Easy Time, a 33-1 shot with Adam Beschizza aboard, finished second, paying $23 and $12. It was a head back to 12-1 Fauci, who drew in from the also-eligible list with Ricardo Santana Jr. and paid $8. Fractions for the sprint were :22.18, :45.46, 1:09.11 and 1:15.38.
The 2-1 favorite, Point Me By, never found his way deep in the pack of the 11-horse field, and finished seventh.
“He broke from there and he looked pretty comfortable,” said jockey Luis Saez, “but when we came to the top of the stretch everybody was gone. He was making a little move. I think he’s better with more distance, more comfortable breaking and making one run. This one went too quick.”
Sheikh Fahad was pleased with the results of the challenge he threw to Walsh.
“Brendan (Walsh) has been very lucky for us,” Sheikh Fahad said. “He’s a very good trainer, Brendan, and deserves all the luck he’s been getting. That’s why we chose him. Also Fergus Galvin, our racing manager over here, thought that this race was ideal for him. And to be honest, Tyler (Gaffalione) gave him an unbelievable ride. The one thing I asked Oisin Murphy, who rides him in England, and he said just make sure he’s sitting third-fourth, and that he has something to aim at. He thought he was better than the other field here, and he showed that today. He’s going to be a very fun horse to have in America.”
Sheikh Fahad said he enjoyed his first trip to Kentucky Downs. “It’s an absolutely beautiful track, great racetrack, great course, they’ve taken good care of it, what more could you ask for?”
Qatar Racing doesn’t own all of The Lir Jet, who earned $174,840 with his third win from 11 lifetime starts; a stake was sold to a group called Racehorseclub. “It gave them a horse that takes them to Kentucky Downs, takes them to Royal Ascot, everywhere around the world. They’ve had a Grand National second, a Royal Ascot winner, and now a Kentucky Downs winner.”
What’s on tap for 2022? “That’s a secret you’ll learn about next year,” Sheikh Fahad said. They’ll be looking at sending more horses over, “for this meet and this race, in particular,” he said. “You don’t have many owners who win a race three consecutive years in a row, a very competitive race like this. And yes, for sure, we’re going to try to find another horse for this race, and for the meet as well.”