Sadly MGSW, Millionaire and GS producer KEEPER HILL died at 20. Proud to have been associated with her early training and to have sold her at Keeneland April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale 1997 for $250K. Today the BloodHorse
looks back at her shocking Las Virgenes win.

Keeper Hill wins the 1998 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs
Keeper Hill wins the 1998 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

BackTrack: Keeper Hill Shocks in Las Virgenes

Each Thursday, presents historic race stories from the magazine.

Ummmmmm. Good tasting canary. Bobby Frankel had everything but yellow feathers sticking out from the corners of his grin after John and Alice Chandler’s Keeper Hill paid $114.20 in winning the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1) at a mile on Feb. 15. The daughter of Deputy Minister, fresh from her maiden win, effectively drove a stakes through the heart of the California 3-year-old filly division with a 5 1/2-length victory that discouraged the idea that anything out West would be catching her soon.

“I wanted to see if we had an Oaks-type filly,” Frankel said, explaining his jump to a grade 1 race. He found out he had a Guineas filly in the bargain.

Michael Tabor’s Love Lock, winner of the Starlet Stakes (G1) and Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3), had a throat-hold on the local division, but she got sick and went to the farm. Wayne Lukas tried to replace her with Star of Broadway, the Broad Brush filly who was 3-for-3 in the Midwest. The fans went along for the ride, making her 8-5, while Career Collection went off at 9-5.

Keeper Hill raced three times in the East last year for Shug McGaughey and was never embarrassed. She finished second to Ninth Inning, subsequent winner of the Astarita Stakes (G2). McGaughey, who owns a piece, and the Chandlers, decided Keeper Hill could get more chances on the grass in Southern California than in Florida. Since John Chandler works with Frankel through the Juddmonte Farm horses, Bobby was their man. She broke her maiden first crack on the grass Jan. 14.

“I looked at this race,” Frankel said of the Las Virgenes, “and it looked like there were nothing but sprinters going in there. She’s bred for the dirt, and she had that good race to the filly who won the Astarita. My only real worry was that it might be too short for her. But the Chandlers kept urging me to go ahead and enter her. They gave me the confidence to try.”

Frankel also added blinkers. “The jock had to ride her hard last time,” the trainer said. “The last time I breezed her, with the blinkers, she went much better. I think that made the biggest difference.”

Keeper Hill also got one of those trips sent straight from racing heaven. Breaking from post one, under David Flores for the first time, she hugged the rail behind a fast pace around the turn and onto the backstretch. Up front, Star of Broadway was being pestered by Mishill, whose unbeaten record from Portland Meadows was worth 32-1 in the tote, compared to 56-1 on Keeper Hill.

Flores was able to stay inside without effort as his filly gradually gained on the leaders. Around the final turn, Star of Broadway shook loose as Mishill gave way. Career Collection put in a run on the outside, but it was Keeper Hill on the rail who had the momentum. Flores pulled alongside Star of Broadway to make a race for it. Then suddenly, it was over. Keeper Hill galloped away in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by 5 1/2 lengths, as Star of Broadway saved second over Occhi Verdi. The winner was timed in 1:36.94 and lit up the board.

“Leaving the paddock she was 90-1,” Frankel said with a shake of his head. “I said to myself, ‘If you’re ever gonna bet, now’s the time.'” So, how hard did he play?

“Not a dollar.”