Big Score Scores Big in Transylvania

By Jennie Rees, TurfTalk360

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It was a big score for George Krikorian’s Big Score, a 10-1 shot who ran down front-running longshot Holiday Stone for a half-length victory in Friday’s $150,000 Transylvania Stakes presented by Keeneland Select, the traditional opening-day feature of Keeneland’s spring meet.

Big Score, a son of the California stallion Mr. Big, traveled from Santa Anita to make his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, in which he finished fifth in a race won by Oscar Performance. That horse also was making his first start at age 3, finishing fifth as the odds on favorite. It was a tough field of sophomores, including second choice Ticonderoga, who was fourth in the same Breeders’ Cup race and in his prior start won Gulfstream Park’s Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes. 

“It was pretty much straightforward,” said trainer Tim Yakteen, winning his first stakes at Keeneland. “The horse is so easy to train. It’s a pleasure. I’m excited about Mr. Big himself, and this is a big score for Mr. Big.”

On turning the tables on Oscar Performance, Yakteen said, “I always had a lot of hopes for him. I think he’s a really nice horse.”

Next up is Churchill Downs’ $300,000 American Turf on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard, he said. That race could also attract Holiday Stone, for whom a major objective would be the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational July 8 over trainer George Weaver’s base at Belmont Park in New York.

Big Score was ridden for the first time by four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano after being ridden in his four prior starts in California by Flavien Prat. Before a chilled but sun-soaked crowd of 14,301, Big Score settled into fifth, moved up through the second turn as Castellano threaded his way through traffic, getting to the outside to wear down Holiday Stone. Time for 1 1/16 miles on turf was 1:43.25, with Big Score paying $22.40. The 3-9 exacta with 34-1 Holiday Stone, who was ridden by Luis Saez, paid $328.60 for $2.

“I had a wonderful trip,” Castellano said. “I really like the way he did it today – very relaxed, very comfortable, good rhythm all the way through the race. I kept track of the pace. The way he did it (winning from off the pace) was phenomenal. I give all the credit to Tim and the owner and the wonderful fans here at Keeneland. Nothing better than to win the Transylvania on opening day of the meet.”

Makarios, with Corey Lanerie up for trainer Nick Zito at 38-1 odds, rallied late from last to finish another length back in third, out-finishing Ticonderoga. Oscar Performance weakened late to lose by a total of three lengths, with Cowboy Culture, Sonic Boom and Profiteer rounding out the field.

“No real excuses,” said Brian Lynch, trainer of Oscar Performance. “He settled in nicely behind. The pace was not real quick and the rail opened up when it needed to but he just did not quicken. (The layoff) was a concern. He could have gotten tired. He was working on a much faster turf course at Palm Meadows (training center in South Florida). Maybe he was not as tight as I thought he would be.”

Mr. Big, a son of the outstanding turf sire Dynaformer, stands at E. A. Ranches in Ramona, Calif. However, Big Score was foaled in Kentucky. Big Score now is 3-1-0 in five starts, earning $237,800 with the $90,000 payday.

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