Updated on 09/15/2011 1:13PM

Keeneland notebook: Snow Dance has Grade 1 potential


LEXINGTON, Ky. - John T. Ward Jr. has saddled the winners of Grade 1 races at Gulfstream, Woodbine, Belmont, and Churchill Downs. The most recent win came in May at Churchill, where Monarchos gave Ward his greatest career thrill by winning the 127th Kentucky Derby.

But Ward has never won a Grade 1 at Keeneland, even though he has lived just outside the back gate virtually his entire 56-plus years. "Never gotten one of those gold julep cups" that signifies a Grade 1 win at Keeneland, he said.

By Saturday evening, that may have changed. With Snow Dance, who is undefeated in four career starts on grass, Ward has one of the major contenders in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The QEII is one of three annual Grade 1 races at Keeneland, along with the Blue Grass and Spinster Stakes.

Ward believes that Snow Dance has a solid chance to prevail, although like so many other trainers with horses in the QEII, he is extremely impressed by the depth of the race. Voodoo Dancer, Green Apples, Affluent, and several other notables are part of a terrific field.

"This might not only be the premier turf race for 3-year-old fillies in this country, but in any country," he said. "It's that tough."

Snow Dance, owned by John Oxley, has been something of a surprise this year. When she won her turf debut, an entry-level allowance at Churchill in July, it was "only because I didn't think she was strong enough to win at that level on the dirt," said Ward. "The great thing about her is how she has improved every race since then."

Indeed, Snow Dance, by Forest Wildcat, reeled off victories in an allowance race and the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga, then the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington, bringing her to the QEII. Although she tends to show brilliant speed, she won the Pucker Up from off the pace, showcasing a new dimension.

"It's fair to say she belongs here," said Ward. "She's been running her last three-eighths in pretty respectable fractions, which she'll obviously have to do to win Saturday. The good thing about her is she doesn't have to do it from the back of the pack."

Bill Mott and Christophe Clement, who more typically do battle on the turf courses of Gulfstream, Belmont, or Saratoga, will have the likely favorites in the secondary feature Saturday, the $75,000 Franklin Stakes for 3-year-old turf horses.

Mott is represented by Baptize, who won the Transylvania Stakes on the opening day of the Keeneland spring meet and since has won the Arlington Classic and Hall of Fame Stakes, both Grade 2 events. Clement's starter, Act of Reform, is less accomplished, having most recently finished third in the Transylvania to Baptize in April, but the colt has been training well at Belmont in recent weeks.

A field of nine has been entered.

Dream Run wins Perryville

Dream Run, ridden by Pat Day, took full advantage of a poor start from odds-on Hero's Tribute when drawing off to win the $81,225 Perryville Stakes Thursday.

Dream Run, owned by Jack Murphy and trained by Paul J. McGee, stalked the pace from a favorable spot, then drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Strawberry Affair. Solingen was third, followed by Hero's Tribute and Tampa in a field of five 3-year-olds.

The victory snapped a six-race losing streak for Dream Run, a Cherokee Run colt who this year has earned checks in such races as the Florida Derby, Illinois Derby, Derby Trial, and Kentucky Cup Sprint. He paid $5.40 after finishing the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet in 1:27.25 over a fast track.

Hero's Tribute, the 3-5 favorite, was never a threat after giving up several lengths at the break.

One race later, Conserve ($10.20) was always prominent in winning the Thursday finale, an unusually tough allowance for older turf horses. Dernier Croise rallied for second, with front-running Wertz third and favored In Frank's Honor fourth. Attendance was 8,380.

* Nasty Storm, winner of the Raven Run Stakes here Wednesday, is scheduled to be sold before she races again. A 3-year-old Gulch filly, currently owned by a partnership that includes former University of Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, she will be offered at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Nov. 5-15. Eaton Sales is the consignor.

* The Jenna McPeek jinx is over. One day after her first birthday, Jenna McPeek had her photo snapped in the winner's circle following the first race Wednesday. Her father, trainer Ken McPeek, estimated he and his wife, Sue, had brought Jenna to the races "about 20 times" in the past, but he had never won a race in the child's presence. That ended when McPeek saddled Sizzling as a winning favorite Wednesday.