By Jennie Rees — Tyler Gaffalione put an exclamation mark on his first riding title at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., completing a three-win day as Qatar Racing’s French-bred 9-1 shot Guildsman came from far back to beat 21-1 shot Island Commish by a neck in the $500,000, Grade 3 Franklin-Simpson Stakes.
It was another neck back to 47-1 Souper Dormy in the capacity field of 12 3-year-old sprinters in the final stakes of the six-date RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs.
The Brendan Walsh-trained Guildsman provided the 26-year-old Gaffalione his meet-leading 11th win one race after clinching the 2020 Kentucky Downs riding title. He nailed at least one race on five of the meet’s six days.
“That was nice,” Gaffalione said. “It was a great meet. My agent (Matt Muzikar) has done an incredible job preparing for this meet. I’m so thrilled for Brendan. He’s been helping me for a long time. We’ve been trying to hook up with this colt. The distance was key today, just a little extra ground. He kept coming and really proved his stuff today. It was a great race all around.”
Johnny Unleashed led through blistering opening fractions of 21.47 and 44.77 seconds for the quarter- and half-mile, most closely followed by Maven, Island Commish and 2-1 favorite Turned Aside. Meanwhile, Guildsman had one horse beat and was 6 1/2 lengths off the pace entering the stretch run in the seven path.
From there, Guildsman did his best running, and by mid-stretch only 21-1 longshot Island Commish was in front of him with Souper Dormy, longest odds in the field at 47-1, looming after being far behind early.
Guildsman was best in the closing yards to prevail by a neck over Island Commish, the only horse in the early pace that stayed on. Souper Dormy just missed second by another neck. Flap Jack, who was sent off at 37-1 odds, finished fourth, beaten three lengths.
Named after the host town and county of the south-central Kentucky track venue, the 6 1/2-furlong Franklin Simpson yielded among the highest exotics payoffs of the meet.
The foursome fueled a 10-cent superfecta payoff of $6,919.15; the $2 exacta paid $364.00; and the $1 trifecta returned $3,956.30. As for the $2 win-place-show money, Guildsman tickets were worth $21.80, $10.60 and $6.40. Island Commish paid $19.80 and $12.00, and Souper Dormy tickets were redeemed for $18.20.
Following the top four across the finish line were, in order, Turned Aside, Old Chestnut, Another Miracle, Johnny Unleashed, Fore Left, Embolden, Maven and Competitive Saint.
Guildsman was timed in 1:15.87 for 6 1/2 furlongs on turf rated firm. The win pushed Guildsman’s record to three wins from 11 starts, with a second and two thirds. The value of the race turned out to be $343,875 because no Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund money was available to the French-bred gelding Guildsman. With the winner’s share of $144,150, he upped his earnings to $254,636.
Guildsman made his first six starts in England, France and Ireland last year. Sent to Walsh, he was making his fifth start in America, racing well each time against quality competition. He came into the Franklin-Simpson off his first U.S. win, that coming in Presque Isle’s $75,000 Tom Ridge Stakes over a synthetic surface.
“They just sent him over here,” Walsh said. “I guess they just thought maybe he’d fit here. The 5 and the 5 1/2 races, he’s been running well but they’re a little bit on the short side for him, maybe. We were going six at Presque Isle last time and the 6 1/2 today was right in his wheelhouses. I’m not actually surprised. He’s a really talented horse.”
The victory was the third of the meet for Walsh, who also won Wednesday’s fourth race with Born Great, the only two-time winner at the meet.
“I’m not just a one-horse trainer,” Walsh said with a laugh.
The victory capped a huge two-week run for Qatar Racing’s Sheikh Fahad al Thani. Sheikh Fahad is partners on the Brad Cox-trained Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil. Guildsman also provided Qatar Racing its second straight victory in the Franklin-Simpson, being the co-owner of last year’s Doug O’Neill-trained winner Legends of War.
“Sheikh Fahad was watching closely at home in England,” said his representative, Fergus Galvin, who was at the Keeneland yearling sales. “He was thrilled. He had a big couple of weeks with Shedaresthedevil. Brendan has done a great job with the horse. He had it mapped out from a few months ago. but Sheikh Fahad has gotten a massive thrill out of him. He’s always shown a lot of promise, this horse. He ran in some of the bigger 2-year-old races over there. The distance, 6 1/2 furlongs, and the configuration of the track obviously played to his advantage. But it certainly made Sheikh Fahad a big fan of Kentucky Downs. He’s already wanting to stock up the stable to point to the meeting next year.”
Eclipse Award-winning Jennie Reese is an HRI contributor