By T. D. Thornton
The juvenile fillies division is crystalizing into one of the most intriguing subplots of the Breeders’ Cup as we approach the six-week mark to the championships.
The skyrocketing ‘TDN Rising Star‘ Tamara (Bolt d’Oro), unveiled barely a month ago, has emerged from the West Coast as the obvious topper of her division. But the brilliant, 2-for-2 daughter of four-time champion Beholder is likely to have a fight on her hands as the upcoming stakes engagements extend around two turns, thanks to a talented trio of fillies who have ascended in the East.
The latest addition to that group of contenders is fellow ‘Rising Star‘ V V’s Dream (Mitole), who on Saturday ran up the score by 8 3/4 as-she-pleased lengths in the GIII Pocahontas S. at Churchill Downs.
The stylish victory by the athletic, unruffled 6-5 favorite represented the first graded stakes win for her freshman sire, Mitole. The 1:36.45 clocking for the one-turn mile was .83 seconds faster than 2-year-old males ran one hour later in the GIII Iroquois S., earning V V’s Dream an 87 Beyer Speed Figure that ranks nine points higher than the number assigned to the winning colt.
V V’s Dream has already tangled with-and run second to-the 4-for-4 Brightwork (Outwork), who has won the Ellis Park Debutante S., the GIII Adirondack S., and the GI Spinaway S. in succession this summer.
Yet it is the trip-troubled filly who ran second in the Spinaway, ‘TDN Rising Star‘ Ways and Means (Practical Joke), who is widely regarded as the one to beat coming out of the Saratoga season. This lofty assessment for a non-stakes-winner is based on her blowout, 90-Beyer MSW debut score by 12 3/4 lengths, and then having her momentum stalled twice in the Spinaway when checking hard and clipping heels behind Brightwork, who only beat her by half a length.
V V’s Dream ($130,000 KEENOV; $190,000 KEESEP) also summered at the Spa, but didn’t race there. After winning her May 19 debut at Churchill by 6 1/4 lengths and running second to Brightwork by half a length in the July 2 Ellis Debutante, the Ken McPeek-trained gray posted five published workouts at Saratoga, even though the Sept. 16 Pocahontas S. was circled on the calendar as her next goal.
“Kenny wanted to take longer, didn’t want her to do another sprint,” owner Mike Mackin (MJM Racing) said in a post-win interview published on the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s YouTube feed.
Churchill Downs this year tweaked some aspects of its September stakes schedule, including shortening both the Pocahontas and the Iroquois from 1 1/16 miles to one mile. The Pocahontas had been carded at a mile from 1982 through 2012 and in 2020. Mackin said the move didn’t initially register on his or his trainer’s radar as they prepped V V’s Dream for that spot.
“At the time when we first started [planning her campaign], we were thinking that the Pocahontas was a mile and a sixteenth, and just wanted her to do two turns from here on out,” Mackin said.
“But, close enough, I guess, a flat mile,” Mackin added with the afterglow relief of an owner not wanting to nitpick a romp that stamped his filly as a major divisional force.
In the Pocahontas, V V’s Dream rated adeptly under Brian Hernandez, Jr., then assertively split foes leaving the chute to command a sweet stalking spot while outside and jointly third for most of the backstretch run. The second and third favorites in the betting were establishing a lively and seemingly unsustainable tempo (:22.83 and :45.55), allowing Hernandez to hone his striking sights while edging incrementally closer through the far turn.
Pouncing at will at the quarter pole after a six-furlong split in 1:10.24, V V’s Dream inhaled the wilted pacemakers with little resistance. But it took her several strides before she found her best footing and torqued into a higher gear three-sixteenths out, widening her margin with no serious challengers in her wake. She won geared down and galloped out almost a pole ahead of the runners-up.
“She went on by them pretty easily turning for home, and from there she just kind of coasted on in,” Hernandez said, adding that he “just kind of stayed out of her way and let her get under the wire on her own terms.”
Mackin said the Oct. 6 GI Alcibiades S. at Keeneland is next. He attempted to compare V V’s Dream to other recent graded stakes winners his family has campaigned with McPeek (as Lucky Seven Stable), but couldn’t quite come up with the right analogy.
“Well, hopefully she’s got more sense than Smile Happy,” Mackin said, speaking of the notoriously difficult-to-train Runhappy colt. “But she’s got more tactical speed than Rattle N Roll,” he added, referring to the one-run closer by Connect. “He’s going to be back of the pack.”
Hernandez, who has worked closely with McPeek’s outfit for years, had no trouble pinpointing a comparison from different owners in that same stable.
“She kind of reminds us a lot of that filly we had a few years ago, Restless Rider,” the jockey said, referring to the McPeek-trained daughter of Distorted Humor who ran second in the 2018 GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
If V V’s Dream follows Restless Rider’s pattern and also wins the Alcibiades, she, too, will enter the Breeders’ Cup with a 3-for-4 record and a Grade I win at 1 1/16 miles as her final prep.
“She’s just kind of big, and always forward,” Hernandez said of V V’s Dream. “And from day one, when they first got her in here, she’s always kind of done everything the right way. So she’s just one of those types of fillies where it’s exciting to see her just keep progressing.”
McPeek has now won the Pocahontas four times (2023, 2022, 2016, 2015), establishing a record for that stakes. As Mackin talked of plans for V V’s Dream, it might have registered as a surprise to listeners when he touched on the fact that McPeek has never won a Breeders’ Cup race. But he’s been tantalizingly close-second seven times and third on 10 occasions.
McPeek himself wasn’t at the post-race festivities to talk about whether V V’s Dream could be the one to snap that oh-so-close Breeders’ Cup streak. He was 80 miles east in Lexington, scoping out the Keeneland sale.
“As much as he would have liked to have been here today, his future is dependent upon buying the right yearlings,” Mackin said.