A few minutes after Limousine Liberal got a minor shoe adjustment as training hours wound down Wednesday morning, Ben Colebrook was stopped by a fellow trainer on his way out of the Rice Road barn area at Keeneland who wanted to pass along some of the latest scuttlebutt.
"Hey, I went to that handicapping thing last night and they like your horse," David Fawkes, who trains Breeders' Cup Distaff contender Sheer Drama, told Colebrook from behind the wheel of his white dually pickup.
Colebrook nodded, replied and later conceded that he's heard some of that same sentiment as the days count down before Limousine Liberal starts in Saturday's $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint. The 3-year-old Successful Appeal gelding will be Colebrook's first Breeders' Cup starter and also the first for owners and breeders K.K. and Mike Ball of Donamire Farm.
Limousine Liberal is listed at 15-1 on the morning line in the full field of 14 for the 6-furlong Sprint. He's been based at Keeneland for a large portion of the year, including before and after graded stakes appearances at Saratoga Race Course and Parx Racing, and is drawing a fair amount of attention for two impressive workouts heading into the Sprint.
"He's trained really well; his last two breezes have been really good," Colebrook said, referring to works of :59.60 for 5 furlongs Oct. 16 and a half in :46.40 last Saturday. "I don't know how big of an advantage it is to be here so much but it definitely isn't a disadvantage. He's been here, he's seen everything as it's happened. He's been here through the whole process of the building of the tent city if you will."
The Sprint will be Limousine Liberal's first race at Keeneland and just his fifth lifetime start.
Colebrook said he wouldn't have minded Limousine Liberal "a little more seasoned," but also knows a prior number of starts isn't a total prerequisite to winning the Sprint.
History might be on his side in that regard, considering seven 3-year-olds have won the Sprint and 1998 winner Reraise did it after making just five prior starts. The second choice for this year's Sprint, fellow 3-year-old Runhappy, will be making just his seventh career start Saturday.
"At the end of the day it's a sprint so, you know, he's either fast enough or he's not," Colebrook said of Limousine Liberal, a winner of two of his four starts. "It's not like you're going in the Classic with a horse that's only run five times."
Limousine Liberal didn't make it to the races until this summer at Churchill Downs, so it's not a stretch to say he's come a long way in a short amount of time. He was getting ready to run last summer when he started to show some discomfort in his hind end.
"He came up with what we kind of guestimated as a bit of a tibia issue," Colebrook said. "We never sent in a nuclear scan or anything like that, but he wasn't moving right behind. I had my vet look at him and him being a big horse anyway we said, 'let's just give him time.' "
"He was ready to run and was showing he was going to be pretty good. But we decided to put him away. Sent him back to the farm, then K.K. trained him for a while where he was almost ready to breeze and sent him back to me."
Limousine Liberal came back to Colebrook late in the Keeneland April meeting, didn't take long to get ready and made his debut June 21. He won a 6-furlong maiden that day despite a troubled trip that included a slow start, a run up into traffic that forced him to check, no room to run around the far turn, slight bumping in the stretch and being forced to come between horses in deep stretch.
A month later Limousine Liberal won again at 6 furlongs, taking an Ellis Park allowance in a track-record 1:07.89. His connections set their sights high for his next start, the Grade 1 King's Bishop, where he ran into another talented sophomore on the rise in Runhappy.
Limousine Liberal gave his connections a big thrill at Saratoga, leading in the early stages of the 7-furlong King's Bishop before he was overtaken by Runhappy approaching the opening quarter-mile in :22.43. He stayed close to Runhappy the entire trip, gave way slightly in the stretch and finished 4 lengths back in second.
"When we ran him first time he had a terrible trip and still won. Then we said, 'wow, we've got something here,' " Colebrook said. "Then we took him to Ellis, he breaks the track record and we said, 'let's go big.'
"He freaked out, Runhappy, that day. We were close and for a split second there I thought we might win. And then (Runhappy) ran on at the end."
Colebrook anticipated a bit of a reaction from Limousine Liberal when he ran back in three weeks in the Grade 3 Gallant Bob on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard, but still thought he might be good enough to win. Limousine Liberal broke slow again in the Gallant Bob, got close to Trouble Kid around the turn but lost ground when Irad Ortiz Jr. took him wide. They rallied in the stretch but came up a neck short.
Colebrook had the Perryville Stakes, 6-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds that will kick off the Breeders' Cup Saturday card, in mind for Limousine Liberal's next start until circumstances earlier this month changed his mind.
The first came Oct. 8 when a stress fracture forced the retirement of defending Sprint winner Work All Week. The second came two days later when Rock Fall, expected to be favored for the Sprint, suffered a fatal breakdown after a workout at Keeneland.
"We really weren't thinking about the Breeders' Cup until the two defections," he said. "That changes everything when you have two of the probable favorites come out. Then we said, 'hey, let's leave it to chance if we get in. If we don't get in we run in the Perryville.' The good thing is both races are the same day so the horse trained exactly the same. Nothing changed. Luckily it all worked out, we got in and now we're here."