Butler’s Rotknee rolls in Affirmed Success

Thursday, May 2nd, 2024

Rotknee returns to the winner’s circle in Thursday’s Affirmed Success to kick off the Belmont at the Big A meeting. NYRA Photo.

Rotknee kicked off what could be a super weekend for William “Buck” Butler and his family with a victory in Thursday’s $97,000 Affirmed Success Stakes on Opening Day of the Belmont at the Big A meeting.

The 5-year-old homebred son of Runhappy topped four opponents in the 6-furlong Affirmed Success, run about 24 hours before his half-sister and fellow Butler homebred My Mane Squeeze runs in the $600,000, Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.

Rotknee also opened a Belmont meet the same way he closed last year’s fall stand at Aqueduct, winning a stakes against fellow state-breds. He won by 1 3/4 lengths over Sheriff Bianco in 1:09.89 over the fast track. Manny Franco rode the winner for trainer Mike Maker, with Butler and his family on hand before a trip to Louisville Friday morning to catch My Mane Squeeze.

“I’ve never seen a bad step from him,” Butler said. “He’s been outrun before, other than that, he knows how to race. He knows how to race and has a heart. He’s got a big heart. I felt that coming down the stretch.

“I wish I could add something. Honestly, I was watching my grandsons as much as I was watching the horse. I had an absolute ball watching them. They come out with me occasionally and it is nice to be able to bring them along here.”

Rotknee, who improved to 10-for-19 with his sixth stakes victory, won last year’s Hudson Stakes on the Empire Showcase Day card to close the Belmont at the Big A fall meeting. Franco didn’t ride that day, nor in Rotknee’s victory two starts back in the Say Florida Sandy Stakes in late January at Aqueduct, but never felt like he was on anything but the winner.

“Yes. Definitely,” he said when asked that very question.

“I knew Excellent Timing, the horse outside me, he got speed, so I was thought he was going to do it [set the pace],” Franco said. “He never cleared me, so I just kept my position and my horse ended up on the lead before the half-mile. I was comfortable where I was.”

Rotknee led at every call in the Affirmed Success, clicking off splits of :22.39 and :44.97 before turning for home with an almost 2-length lead. He rolled past 5 furlongs in :56.93 and held off Sheriff Bianco’s late run. Donegal Surges finished another 2 ¾ lengths back in third with Excellent Timing and Thrill of It completing the field.

Rotknee earned $55,000 for his latest victory and pushed his earnings to $640,580. He also bounced back from a sixth in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap March 2 at Aqueduct.

“He had some tough competition,” Butler said of the Tom Fool. “He came back to visit the New York-breds and he’s pretty successful here.”

My Mane Squeeze ventures out of the New York-bred ranks for the second straight start in the 7-furlong Eight Belles, which goes as the ninth race on the Oaks Day card at 4:04 p.m. ET. The daughter of Audible finished eighth in the Grade 2 Fantasy last time after trouble behind the starting gate, but won three straight New York-bred stakes before that effort at Oaklawn Park.

Butler remains confident in the filly out of his Speightstown mare In Spite of Mama.

“I’m really excited [after the effort] we gave them last time, and I think we had an excuse with the acting up [before the Fantasy],” Butler said. “I’m very, very excited.”

Rotknee and My Mane Squeeze were foaled at Keane Stud in Amenia and they’re two of four winners out of In Spite of Mama.

In Spite of Mama is also the dam of the 6-year-old New York-bred Into Mischief colt Lookin for Trouble, was a winner and multiple stakes-placed for Butler and Maker. He earned $170,220. In Spite of Mama is also the dam of the 4-year-old New York-bred Bolt d’Oro colt Mama’s Gold, a four-time winner in 14 starts with earnings of $172,641; and a New York-bred 2-year-old filly by 2019 Preakness Stakes winner War of Will and a yearling full brother to Rotknee.

In Spite of Mama, a 12-year-old out of the Carson City mare Mama Theresa, went 3-2-2 in 17 starts for Butler and Maker from 2014 to 2016.

Butler bought Mama Theresa for $65,000 at the 2005 OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training. She won six of 25 starts, placed in two stakes and earned $240,898 for Butler and Timothy Twomey and the late trainer Dominic Galluscio. In Spite of Mama is Mama Theresa’s second foal and a half-sister to four other winners, including stakes winner A Freud of Mama, an earner of $399,818 who also finished third in the Grade 3 Matron Stakes at Belmont Park in 2019 for Butler and Maker.

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