Direct the Cat returns with flair

Direct the Cat
Direct the Cat won an allowance at Charles Town. Photo by Coady Photography.

In the days leading up to watching her talented three-year-old filly Direct the Cat make her seasonal debut June 20 Charles Town, trainer Cynthia McKee admitted she was nervous about the outcome. She needn’t have been.

Last year’s West Virginia-bred champion two-year-old filly, the sophomore daughter of Redirect was made the 3-5 favorite in a one-turn allowance for state-bred fillies and mares despite the presence of multiple stakes winner Great Spirit, a four-year-old filly trained by Crystal Pickett and recent heroine of the Fancy Buckles Stakes for a second straight year.

Soon after the gates opened in that one-turn dash, however, McKee perhaps realized that a lot of her nervous energy had been misdirected. Direct the Cat dueled for command between horses briefly down the backside, surged to the lead entering the far turn, and drew clear of Great Spirit in the lane for a six-length score while stopping the timer in an eye-opening 50.87 for the 4 1/2 furlongs.

“I think she came out of the race better than I did,” McKee said the following day. “I mean, I was a nervous wreck the whole week. I thought she would run well, but I was not expecting that. Of course, I wasn’t too happy to see Great Spirit in there. But it was a good test for both of our fillies.”

Last year as a freshman, Direct the Cat needed three starts to earn her diploma. But after graduating against maiden special weight company, she promptly reeled off three consecutive stakes tallies. She took the Rachel’s Turn, then the Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders Classic before ending her campaign by taking the James & Eleanor Casey Memorial.

The first of those tallies, the Rachel’s Turn, came in race named for Cynthia McKee’s late husband John’s star racemare of the early 1990s. John McKee bred Direct the Cat, whom Cynthia trains for her own Beau Ridge Farm LLC operation.

Following the Casey Memorial November 4, McKee gave Direct the Cat a planned, lengthy vacation and brought her back with three solid workouts this spring while looking for an ideal spot to make her sophomore debut. The near-term target: the $75,000 Sylvia Bishop Stakes for state-bred three-year-old fillies July 27.

“I needed to get a race in her before the stakes and I really didn’t want to ship,” McKee said. “I wanted to stay close to home. I mean, I was not expecting to see Great Spirit in there. But she needed the race. I was nervous before, but she ran just unbelievable. She was still feeling good at the barn [Friday morning]. She didn’t want to be in the stall all day, so we walked her a little bit.”

Ideally, McKee would like to run Direct the Cat in the Sylvia Bishop along with her stablemate Overnight Pow Wow, a two-turn allowance winner last out, then point her for the Grade 2, $750,000 Charles Town Oaks on August 23. One potential challenge, however, is that Direct the Cat has no graded stakes earnings to date and that is one of the preferences for the local event.

“The Bishop is going to be tougher than people expect,” McKee said. “Lady Rambo is tough and Leslie [Cromer]’s filly [What’shername] looked really good winning [a two-turn allowance] last night. But I’m hoping that she gets in the Oaks. When you put up that kind of money, good horses are going to come from everywhere. I’d like to be able to stay close to home and be able to run for that kind of money. I really don’t want to ship anywhere.”