Peace Achieved is unbeaten in three starts with blinkers and jockey Miguel Mena, a streak his team hopes to continue in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
After two defeats sprinting, the newly-blinkered Peace Achieved impressively won a maiden race at Ellis Park, captured Kentucky Downs' $500,000 Gainesway Farm Juvenile and in following that up with victory in Keeneland's Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon earned a fees-paid berth in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.
Mena admits he was fortunate to gain the mount on Peace Achieved at Ellis Park while the Mark Casse-trained colt's previous jockey was serving a suspension.
“I guess he got focused on running, and that day he went straight to the lead and never stopped,” Mena said of the addition of blinkers. “He just keeps improving. He's learning. He keeps getting better, maturing. That's what good horses do.
“He won that race at Kentucky Downs, got over the track real good and finished up nice and strong. The other day at Keeneland, the same thing. It was a little softer track. At first I had to help him, keep him in the bit, but he went on and finished nice and strong. He's run at Churchill, Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland. He's an easy horse to get along with. I think the track at Santa Anita won't be a problem.”
Mena has had three prior Breeders' Cup mounts, the last being in 2014 and his best finish fourth in the 2010 Filly & Mare Sprint aboard Champagne d'Oro.
The pursuit of his first Breeders' Cup victory comes after being sidelined for much of 2018. This time a year ago, Mena was just starting back in the wake of a racing mishap that left him with eight fractures in an ankle and heel. The healing process of those injuries was complicated and extended by the development of fracture blisters that made surgery too risky.
“It's good for my career, especially one year after coming back,” he said of Peace Achieved's success. “I appreciate the opportunity from Mr. Mark and the connections. It will be special to be back at Santa Anita after so many years, especially with a horse that has a good shot — so just enjoying the ride.”
Mena won the $200,000, Grade 2 Las Vegas Marathon (formerly the Breeders' Cup Marathon) on the 2014 Breeders' Cup undercard at Santa Anita.
He is grateful for Casse and owner Joe Minor sticking with him for the championship event, knowing racing history is full of jockeys who get replaced by higher-profile riders once the horse gets to elite events such as the Breeders' Cup.
“It's good for me, because I worked hard to come back,” Mena said. “I've got a bad foot, which is crooked. But hard work pays off. I don't blame those trainers wanting those riders like the Ortiz boys. They're on another level. But I can get the job done, too. And I really appreciate the opportunity from Mark and the owners. I'm very excited. I think he's a good horse.”
With Mena up, Peace Achieved worked five-eighths of a mile early Saturday morning in 59 3/5 seconds in company, the second-fastest of 65 moves at the distance at Churchill Downs.
“He's always a good work horse; I was very pleased with him,” said David Carroll, who oversees Casse's Churchill Downs division. “He carries great condition, just a cool horse. He's playful. He goes out and trains every day, eats and sleeps. Yeah, he's one of those horses who just does his job.
“He's an interesting horse, really. I like his style. He likes to be close to the pace; he doesn't have to be on the lead. I think the firm turf would suit him better than what it was at Keeneland a little bit. Obviously the water gets deeper, but he deserves a chance.”
Around the barn, Peace Achieved is called “Piece of Cheese,” the result of the stable crew initially thinking that was what the Irish-born Carroll was saying.
“They make fun of my accent, so Piece of Cheese,” Carroll said cheerfully.
Now he'll try to be the Big Cheese.
“His first race was a good run,” Carroll said of Peace Achieved finishing third in his debut May 25 at Churchill Downs. “His second race (a seventh place), he was very coltish in the paddock and wasn't focused at all. We put on the blinkers and stretched him out. He won easy, but you're not sure what you're beating. Then you go to Kentucky Downs and you win. I thought he won impressively that day as well, with something in hand. I think he won a little bit easier than the margin (a neck over Vitalogy) indicated the other day at Keeneland as well. The track was a little bit loose on top, and I think he likes it really firm. I think he'll get that out there (at Santa Anita).
“… The Bourbon, I thought was an excellent race, because I thought he was in trouble at the top of the stretch. It was the first time we'd seen him actually come off the bridle a little bit…. But he dug in good. You almost feel like he's holding something back as well, that there's a bit more in the tank if you dig down. So we're excited about him.”
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf is a mile race around the seven-furlong grass course.
“His style, obviously out there the draw is so important,” Carroll said. “You want to get away, you want to get a forward position. A lot of the main contenders, they want to come from out of it. That first turn out there, a lot of European horses get in trouble, get shuffled back. If he can get away cleanly and get a good forward position, then take the race from there.”