Those who tuned in to the Carter Handicap (G1) on Saturday witnessed a chestnut colt named Vekoma absolutely dominate the competition by 7 ¼ lengths.
It wasn’t the first time horse racing fans had been wowed by this horse. Those who followed the Kentucky Derby trail in 2019 should remember his win in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) well, as it’s hard to forget the way his legs awkwardly flailed as he barreled down the Keeneland’s stretch. That funny running style did him no harm as he was able to open up a 3 ½ length advantage on his foes. Plus, it honestly gave him more fans than he might have had otherwise; racing fans love to follow horses with some quirks.
But, life wasn’t always a celebration for Vekoma. Breeder Jon Clay had carefully planned the breeding that produced Vekoma. Clay purchased Vekoma’s dam Mona de Momma for $1,550,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale in 2011. Mona de Momma was sent with the rest of Clay’s broodmares to Lane’s End Farm, where she had two foals before ultimately being bred to top Lane’s End stallion Candy Ride to produce Vekoma.
Unfortunately, Vekoma would turn out to be her final foal. Mona de Momma passed away when Vekoma was young. The young colt also suffered a brief illness as a newborn, but was thankfully able to recover with no complications. He grew up healthy and happy alongside other Lane’s End foals like Code of Honor. Those who worked with him recall that he was a smart and bright foal who was eager to learn and took to things very quickly.
As a yearling, Vekoma particularly enjoyed the hand walking necessary to ready a horse for the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Though Vekoma had a good mind, his late foaling date meant that he was smaller than many of his peers. This prevented him from bringing top dollar in the sales ring, but he still went home with R.A Hill Stable for $135,000. The colt was sent to trainer Steven Venosa in Florida for his early education and soon began to show signs that he could become a top-notch racehorse. “Always very competitive, always wanted to make sure he was ahead,” Venosa described Vekoma to KentuckyDerby.com. “He dug in, answered every challenge.”
After his early training was complete, Vekoma was sent to trainer George Weaver to begin his real career on the racetrack. The colt made his maiden debut on September 23, 2018 at Belmont Park, winning the race by 1 ¾ lengths. The win was impressive enough for his connections to step him up in company for the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. The Nashua Stakes served as an easy victory for Vekoma; he took command at the top of the stretch and hit the wire 1 ¾ lengths ahead of his competition. It was the final race of the colt’s two-year old season, as trainer George Weaver wanted to give the colt enough time to recover before moving on to other Kentucky Derby preps.
In March 2019, a three-year old Vekoma was entered into the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. He came running down the stretch, but couldn’t do better than third against his former Lane’s End paddock mate Code of Honor.
The loss didn’t sway Vekoma’s connections away from the Kentucky Derby trail, however. They knew that the colt just needed a race to get back into the swing of things. Still confident, they shipped him up to Kentucky for the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland where horseplayers made him the favorite. Vekoma lived up to the horseplayer’s expectations, sitting just off of Somelikeithotbrown in second place before grabbing the lead in the stretch and never looking back.
Vekoma won the Blue Grass Stakes by 3 ½ lengths and would be taking his connections to Louisville to Run for the Roses. Unfortunately, Vekoma wasn’t able to finish better than 12th in the chaos of the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Though it was a disappointing result, his connections didn’t give up hope in their budding star.
He was given many months off of racing to mature and ready up for a good four-year old season. When Vekoma finally did return to the races 10 months after the Kentucky Derby, it was for the seven furlong Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Vekoma loved the distance relief, soaring down the stretch to win with ease.
The quirky colt was finally back to his old self. The next step was the Carter Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park, a “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Horseplayers again made Vekoma the favorite and he rewarded their belief by gliding over Belmont’s sloppy track to win by 7 ¼ lengths. "The way he handled the track today was amazing," jockey Javier Castellano said to BloodHorse after the race. "I didn't have any concern before the race because I rode him in the slop in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and he loved it—a mile and a quarter was just too far. He cut back in distance, and we got what we were looking for today." The cut back in distance was indeed just what the colt needed to return to his old winning ways. Horse racing fans - look out for Vekoma this year as he makes his way towards the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. This is a fast, talented, and smart horse who will certainly make himself known in the Sprint division in 2020.
"I've never had a horse with this much talent and determination. He just knows what he is.” - George Weaver, BloodHorse
[Video: Watch Vekoma win the Carter Handicap]
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