Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Unbelievable’ 47-1 Upset Brings Leitch To First World Championships - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Unbelievable’ 47-1 Upset Brings Leitch To First World Championships

American Apple with trainer Daniel Leitch at Keeneland

The first time Gerardo Corrales breezed 2-year-old filly American Apple in the morning, the jockey returned to trainer Daniel Leitch's barn with a big grin on his face.

“He's loved her since the first time he got on her,” Leitch said. “He said it then: 'This is going to be our Breeders' Cup horse.' Me and (owner/breeder) Larry (Doyle) just kind of laughed and looked at each other, like he was just saying that because he wanted to ride the horse. Well come to find out, he was right!”

American Apple shipped up to New York from Leitch's Keeneland base last week, powering to a 47-1 upset in the Grade 3, $150,000 Matron Stakes to earn a career best Beyer Speed Figure of 87. The daughter of American Pharoah completed six furlongs over Aqueduct's good-rated turf course in 1:09.59.

It was the first stakes win and 11th lifetime victory for 28-year-old Leitch, who began his training career in September of 2021. Plans now call for American Apple to target the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint against males, scheduled for 5 ½ furlongs on Nov. 4 at Keeneland.

“I think she can really win it,” Leitch said, full of confidence in the speedy filly. “She's a really nice filly, and she trains like a monster. I think if she can repeat Saturday's effort she'll be really tough.”

Bred in Kentucky by her owners, Larry and Karen Doyle of KatieRich Farms, American Apple is the final foal out of the graded stakes-placed Clever Trick mare Miss Mary Apples. Miss Mary Apples is also the dam of multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Lady Apple, who thrived in dirt routes for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Miss Mary Apples died when American Apple was a weanling, right around the same time that Lady Apple retired from racing. The Doyles thus decided to retain American Apple to race, rather than taking her to the sales.

Leitch has been a part of American Apple's life since the beginning; he started working for KatieRich on weekends when he was 17, and transitioned to full-time shortly after finishing school. 

Prior to that, Leitch had gotten his horse experience at the racetrack, a passion nurtured thanks to his mother's job as an exercise rider for John Ward and others.

“As soon as I was old enough, maybe 8 or 9 years old, I started cleaning water buckets and raking the barn for trainer Alice Cohn, whatever job I could do,” said Leitch. “Eventually I started hot walking, then grooming, just working my way up through the ranks.”

After working at KatieRich for several years doing sales prep and breaking young horses, Leitch wanted to learn more about the racetrack side of the business. He spent time with trainer Ray Handal, and then Doyle suggested Leitch go to work for KatieRich trainer Mark Hubley.

After 4 ½ years under Hubley's tutelage, Leitch was ready to step out on his own.

“I'm so thankful to Larry (Doyle) for giving me the opportunity,” said Leitch. “He had confidence in me from the start.”

Leitch won with his first starter, a filly named Midway's Angel in a $30,000 maiden claimer on Sept. 21 at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Through his first year conditioning horses, Leitch has maintained a 50 percent in-the-money ratio with a record of 11-7-8 from his 52 starts, with purse earnings of $462,448

“The last year has just flown by,” Leitch reflected. “I was just trying to figure everything out, and then I had a lot of luck and learned a lot. I really can't appreciate Larry enough. He's all for it, to see me do better; he's given me my big chance with nice horses that can really run.

“I'm still thinking this is a dream and I'll wake up from it… Last year, I didn't think I'd even have a winner but to have a winner in your first year and now to have a horse for the Breeders' Cup, it's unbelievable.”

Besides American Apple, Leitch has nine other horses stabled at Keeneland. One of those is his own, a 2-year-old Indiana-sired gelding named Conquered. The son of Greeley's Conquest came from trainer Laura Wohlers and owner James McIngvale, for whom Leitch's mother used to gallop. Conquered is currently nominated to an Indiana-sired stakes at Horseshoe Indianapolis after breaking his maiden in his fourth lifetime start.

Leitch has been particularly enjoying the progression of Conquered and his other 2-year-old trainees. Another such case has been Zapple, a 9 ¼-length maiden winner at Ellis Park in her first outing after working alongside American Apple. Zapple, a Ghostzapper filly out of American Apple's half-sister, Miss Red Delicious, was then banged up in her second start in the seven-furlong Ellis Park Debutante.

“She got pinched real bad and stumbled. We had to put three stitches in her leg,” Leitch said. “She's at the farm right now. Hopefully, we get her back in the next month and see where we go with her.”

American Apple is the stable star, of course, even if it took the filly four starts to break her maiden. Her first two efforts were fifth-place finishes on the dirt, then in her third start she ran third going a mile on the turf at Ellis Park. The maiden-breaking effort came over 6 ½ furlongs at Kentucky Downs: American Apple prevailed by a nose in a driving finish.

“We started looking at what the Pharoah offspring were doing and they were doing really well on the turf sprinting,” said Leitch. “We tried her (going) long first time and she got a little headstrong and didn't really settle. She was right there at seven-eighths but just didn't finish up that last eighth. That's why we shortened her back up at Kentucky Downs and she really ran well there.”

Leitch and Doyle specifically avoided the “Win and You're In” juvenile turf sprint race at Keeneland on the same weekend, choosing not to take on male rivals until their filly had proven herself against her own gender. Now that she has, Leitch readily acknowledges that it's a big step up for American Apple to take on males in the World Championships, but he remains confident in her chances.

“She's a filly going against the boys. If she runs good, it's a big thing,” he said. “If not, we'll go back against the fillies somewhere else. You have to go for it when you can.”

Upsetter American Apple wins by a neck in the G3 Matron
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