Arguably the most anticipated horse race in the past five years at Canterbury Park was conducted Sept. 16, 2017, the final day of that meet. The $80,000 Shakopee Juvenile at a distance of six furlongs. A showdown between Amy’s Challenge and Mr. Jagermeister.
Amy’s Challenge was a 2-year-old filly that had raced just once five weeks earlier. It was a scintillating display, that lone start. She dismantled her foes with a front-running 16 ½ length victory, earning a 91 Beyer Speed Figure, making her one of the fastest 2-year-olds in North America. Adding to the hype was that she came from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Mac Robertson.
Mr. Jagermeister was a 2-year-old colt, bred in Minnesota, the son of Atta Boy Roy, trained by Valorie Lund. He had raced three times, winning his debut, finishing second with excuses in a stake at Prairie Meadows, and then winning the Northern Lights Futurity by 15 ½ in a walk.
It may as well have been a match race that September afternoon. The fans bet it that way. Amy’s Challenge was 4 to 5 and Mr. Jagermeister 6 to 5.
The filly broke on top while the colt was a step slow. He tracked her throughout, sticking his nose in front at the head of the lane with the rest of the field eight lengths or further behind. Amy’s Challenge dug in and edged away to win by three-quarters of a length over Mr. Jagermeister. It was another three seconds before the third place finisher hit the wire.
The two went their separate ways that fall. Mr. Jagermeister was turned out on an Arizona farm while Amy’s Challenge was shipped to Keeneland to run, but due to complications did not race the rest of the year.
She did make her return at Oaklawn in January of 2018, winning the $125,000 Dixie Belle. Mr. Jagermeister showed up in February in the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita where he contested a blistering pace before fading.
Meanwhile Amy’s Challenge ran twice more at Oaklawn that winter, finishing second and third in grade 3 route races that could have led to the Kentucky Oaks. Robertson opted not to try the Oaks however but instead the Eight Belles at Churchill Downs going seven furlongs. She drew the rail, never looked comfortable, and regressed to finish last.
Lund took Mr. Jagermeister back home to Turf Paradise where he was given a confidence booster, beating up on an allowance optional claiming field 16 days after that Santa Anita race. Then it was on to Oaklawn for the Bachelor Stakes in April where Jag finished a well-beaten second to Mitole, who it turned out may have been one of the best sprinters in the land at that time. He summered in Minnesota winning four times against state breds, dominating in all.
Amy’s Challenge also found the winner’s circle last summer at Canterbury, beating a non-descript field in a turf allowance. She did finally get that Keeneland race, a grade 2, got a bad start, and ran unremarkably sixth in legitimate company.
Now for 2019
Yesterday morning Mr. Jagermeister worked for the eighth time since returning to training in Phoenix. This work a quick six furlongs in 1:10.80.
A few hours later, Amy’s Challenge was warming up on the track at Oaklawn for the $100,000 American Beauty six furlong sprint. She looked her old self. A huge filly full of confidence. She broke alertly under Alex Canchari, was never tested, never really asked, and won by nearly six lengths in 1:09.32.
Lund is plotting the first start for Mr. Jagermeister which likely comes Feb. 9 in the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup.
“He will have one more half-mile blow out [next Saturday at Turf Paradise],” Lund said. “He’s ready to run the race. He’s fit.” He continues to train enthusiastically and grew two inches since the Fall but did not gain a lot of weight. He was 16 hands when he was turned out.
She chose the Phoenix Gold Cup to allow Mr. Jagermeister to “get one under his belt at home” where they do not have to ship. Lund expects the race to be very competitive. “This race always comes up tough for the amount of money,” she said. Rumors are that Chief Cicatriz, who won the Gold Cup in 2017 and 2018 before eventually winning the Grade 3 Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs in June, might be entered and that another from California is pointed that way. Nominations close Wednesday.
Lund is plotting a campaign for 2019 that could lead to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. She did the same with Atta Boy Roy in 2010. The Breeders’ Cup was to be run at Churchill Downs that year so she planned to give Atta Boy Roy a race there and did. He won a grade 2 and was second in a grade 3. He also made it into the BC Sprint field that year. Lund will look at Santa Anita for a spring race before coming to Shakopee. She won’t hold the San Vicente against him but if he does not run well at Santa Anita, if he does not take to the surface, then the BC becomes less likely. She would not run if she wasn’t going to see “her best horse” in the race.
Mr. Jagermeister is likely to race every six or eight weeks, maybe six or seven times in 2019. He would train at Canterbury and ship to run. While there likely is not a dirt race for him this year at Canterbury save Festival Day, maybe something changes. The Dark Star Cup, run for $50,000 last year, could attract some serious sprinters, including Jag, were that purse doubled. As Dark would say, “It makes all the sense in the world.”
After yesterday in Arkansas, Robertson has to be thinking about November as well. He was quoted thusly following the American Beauty: “She ran like a Breeders’ Cup contender here today and it’s just January at Oaklawn.”
It is hard to conceive a situation where Amy’s Challenge and Mr. Jagermeister ever meet again on the racetrack. But how about something just as good? Each entered in a Breeders’ Cup race this November. That is an eternity from right now and Mac knows it. So does Valorie. But you don’t get there by accident. If Amy’s Challenge retains form and Mr. Jagermeister makes strides, why not both of them in a Breeders’ Cup race?