Great Spirit scores in Fancy Buckles

Saturday’s $75,000 Fancy Buckles Stakes for West Virginia-bred fillies and mares was named in honor of the talented Tim Grams trainee who helped put the conditioner on the map 20 years ago. The betting public focused its attention on another Grams trainee, Maggie’s Girl, who was made the 3-5 favorite with Larry Reynolds aboard.

Fancy Buckles won nine of 17 career outings and earned nearly $280,000 along the way, although she was the beaten favorite twice in the Cavada Breeders Classic, the second time with Reynolds aboard in an edition won by Original Gold. Maggie’s Girl arrived having never won a stakes while her main rivals Great Spirit, Stryda and Overnight Pow Wow had each won at least one.

Great Spirit, the defending champion of this event, had Orlando Bocachica aboard and was the 3-1 second choice in her seasonal debut following a blazing 45 4/5-second half-mile work May 24.

When the gates opened, Stryda broke alertly to assume command down the center of the track leaving the chute, and she whistled the opening quarter in 21.70 seconds. Maggie’s Girl was her nearest pursuer then, with Great Spirit three off the tempo.

Maggie’s Girl collared the leader on the far turn and then braced for a pair of challengers who were also hitting their stride nearing the furlong pole.

At the top of the lane, Maggie’s Girl surged past Stryda to gain a brief, clear lead but Great Spirit had found her best stride when the group straightened away and she overhauled the odds-on choice in the lane to defend her title in this event while stopping the timer in 52.18 seconds for 4 ½ furlongs on a fast main track.

Maggie’s Girl settled for the runner-up honors in a good effort, while Overnight Pow Wow rallied willingly in the lane to gain the show spot, nearly two lengths clear of Stryda. 

“She was in a perfect spot the whole race,” said winning trainer Crystal Pickett. “When Orlando set her down turning home, I knew she had it. We’ll probably try an allowance then go in the Sadie Hawkins and the Cavada.” A four-year-old daughter of Great Notion trained by Pickett for owner-breeder Jill Daniel,

Great Spirit prevailed smartly in her seasonal debut and now owns six wins and over $230,000 banked from 10 career outings. Great Spirit is a half-sister to the late sprint specialist Dr. Feelgood, who went 10-for-10 at 4 ½ furlongs.


But last summer the Great Notion filly was able to stretch her speed and capture the $75,000 Sylvia Bishop for three-year-old fillies going two turns. and Pickett expects the half-sister will follow a similar path this summer and fall while facing older rivals.

Great Spirit hadn’t run since finishing third in the Blue and Gold Stakes on West Virginia Breeders Classics night October 14. She was showing three works in preparation, including that very fast May 24 move, which was more than a second faster than any other horse went the distance that morning.

Great Spirit
Great Spirit rallied late to defeat Maggie’s Girl and win the Fancy Buckles Stakes. Photo by Coady Photography.

“I really didn’t want her to go 45 and change from the gate the other morning, but she did it so easily,” Pickett said. “She had the winter off. She stayed here, but she swam a lot.”

Two races earlier on the card, Caffeinnicotine (Grant Whitacre) lived up to his role as the 3-2 favorite in a two-turn allowance for state-breds when he rallied from midpack to overhaul a loose leader on the far turn and then held sway late for a 1 ¼-length victory. A sophomore son of Blofeld owned, bred and trained by Elizabeth Meehan, Caffeinnicotine recorded his second win from six career outings while getting the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:20.25 as the solid choice.

“Initially my plan was to go to the front because on paper it didn’t look like there was a lot of speed in there,” said Whitacre. “I saw the 10-horse go the front, so I just sat off of him until the far turn. When I asked him to go he had plenty left.”

Whitacre played apprentice jockey Paul Feliciano in the Disney movie “Secretariat.” In the movie, Feliciano is blamed for Secretariat’s fourth-place finish in his career debut and unceremoniously replaced. But in actuality it was Feliciano who steered Secretariat to his first victory in his subsequent start.

One race earlier Saturday, Zen Master (Christian Hiraldo) forged a very mild upset as the 9-5 second choice in a two-turn allowance/optional $15,000 claiming event when he swept to command with a bold move down the backside then drew clear late to a 6 3/4-length score. A five-year-old Mastery gelding trained by Stephen Murdock for owner Robert Cole, Jr., Zen Master notched his first win from five seasonal tries and now owns a 5-3-8 slate and $163,000 from 25 career outings after getting the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:19.32. Zen Master was also claimed out of the race for $15,000 by trainer Anthony Farrior and owner Richard Burnsworth.