05/15/2007 11:00PM

Just for Keeps taking slow track to fame


MIAMI - Trainer Mike McDonald is hoping patience will be a virtue when it comes to Just for Keeps, his undefeated 3-year-old filly who has captured her first two starts by an average margin of 6 1/2 lengths.

Just for Keeps won her career debut by six lengths here last summer in the nightcap on the Summit of Speed card. A daughter of Broken Vow, Just for Keeps led throughout despite racing against the grain of a severely biased racetrack that did not yield a single gate-to-wire victory or winner on the rail until her impressive performance.

Unfortunately, McDonald had to stop on Just for Keeps to remove bone flakes from the top of her left knee. The flakes were discovered shortly after her big maiden tally. She returned from her 10-month layoff Monday to register an easy seven-length triumph over first-level allowance opposition.

"She was never unsound," said McDonald, who trains Just for Keeps for the Matthews Stable. "She had a little filling and we were 50-50 on whether to even take the flakes out. But we felt this filly had a chance to be special, so we decided to give her the surgery and then far more than the normal down time customary following such an operation. Most horses would return from that type of an injury in three months. We gave her six to seven months off before putting her back in training."

McDonald said he'll continue to be conservative with Just for Keeps despite the brilliant start to her career.

"We'll continue to take it slow with her and not change the game plan now," McDonald said. "I'll probably look for a two-other-than allowance race for her right here. She'll more than likely have to face older horses when she does run again - I doubt we'll get that condition to fill for straight 3-year-olds - and if she can handle older and more experienced competition, it will tell us a lot about her future."

Just for Keeps could even show up again this summer on Summit of Speed Day - this time in one of the main events, the Grade 3 Azalea Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies.

"She's probably capable of handling that type of race talent-wise, but, like I said, we don't want to rush her into something she might not be ready for just yet," McDonald said. "The owners have also expressed an interest in taking her to Saratoga later this summer, which would be another option to consider."

Mitchellhill young rider on rise

Apprentice jockey Sally Mitchellhill has been named the first jockey of the month for the 2007 Calder season. Mitchellhill, a 24-year-old native of Edinburgh, Scotland, recorded a hat trick last Friday and was tied for fourth in the rider standings going into Thursday's card.

Mitchellhill began her riding career here last December, winning with her third mount. She spent the winter at Tampa Bay Downs, where she was the leading apprentice while riding primarily for trainer Kirk Ziadie.

"That was the plan all along," Mitchellhill said. "Spend the winter at Tampa gaining experience and learning as much as I can before returning here for the summer. And so far, I'm loving every minute of this. It's also been good for me to win races for trainers other than Kirk here thus far this meet."

Mitchellhill attended jockey school in England for three years and was ranked the top show rider in Scotland before coming to the United States six years ago to gallop horses in Southern California for trainer Paddy Gallagher. She eventually migrated east, working as an exercise rider for Todd Pletcher before meeting Ziadie in 2006.

"Everybody here has been awesome, such a big help, especially the other girls in the room like Rosemary [Homeister] and Kristi [Chapman]," Mitchellhill said. "I'm working as hard as I can because I feel you can learn as much getting on horses during the morning as you do riding races in the afternoon, and I believe the more horses I get on each day, the faster I'll be able to improve."