“It’s the classic distance,” observed Vern Dubinsky. “It’s like the difference between the Kentucky Derby and the Travers.
“The earlier races are great races but some horses develop a little later and all of them are more experienced. The fillies are mature three-year-olds [now].
And there aren’t many horsemen who show more patience than Hall of Famer Bill Mott. You don’t see him making noise with two-year-olds. Hell, he doesn’t work them fast enough to even find out.
But what got him into the pantheon across the street from where the filly he trains for Palisades Investments, Royal Delta, made a shambles of the 131st Alabama over a small but extremely select group, was his patient nack of developing the horses in his care.
In vanquishing them by 5 ½ lengths, he and his filly defeated Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks winner It’s Tricky and Queen’s Plate winner, Inglorious, for good measure.
But as for the filly who beat 16 males in Canada’s showcase event, something untoward had to happen.
Inglorious, who surprisingly opened as the 4-5 favorite, ending up up co-favorite with It’s Tricky at 2-1, finished last of six, beaten 35 lengths. Clearly, this was not the real Inglorious, dirt, Polytrack, whatever the surface.
After winning the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan with more authority than the 2-½ length winning margin suggests, Mott played his filly like a Stradavarius..
Unfortunately at that time--but perhaps a blessing given yesterday’s results--she suffered a foot bruise, not serious, but of enough concern to keep her on the sidelines for the Mother Goose.
But Mott’s sights were on the Alabama, as they should have been, for any daughter of Empire Maker from the A. P. Indy mare, the stakes winning Delta Princess, belonged in this spot if she were good enough. Question answered.
She owns the kind of pedigree that racetrackers describe as “bred to run as far as they write races.”
Yesterday that was a mile and quarter, which she negotiated in 2:03.13 over a surface that has required solid conditioning all meeting long.
Having missed the Mother Goose, Mott needed a bridge raced to get to the Alabama fit, physically and mentally. That race was the Coaching Club Oaks, which alos provided the all important race over the track.
She was beaten by 7-¼ lengths in the CCAO, but was going in the right directionat the finish, which was all that mattered. It was a good race to build on, which was exactly what Mott did.
He drilled her on the turf in :59, breezing, then another strong five-eighths on the main track in 1:00 4/5, also termed breezing, the fourth fastest of 37 workers that morning. She was ready.
It’s Tricky was content to allow Plum Pretty an uncontested lead in moderate fractions, Eddie Castro showing confidence in his mount, content to stalk her rival. But Jose Lezcano had both fillies measured, sitting in the catbird seat, third.
For the winner, it could not have been drawn up any better. Lezcano allowed the dueling fillies into the stretch, tipping three wide soon after straightening away into the stretch, before powering home for the win.
And so Royal Delta is now in the hunt for a three-year-old championship, but remains one Grade 1 win behind divisional leading It's Tricky--at this moment, anyway.
What’s ironic is that Mott has this reputation as a turf maven. But by winning the Alabama, he opened the door for Winter Memories, arguably the best turf filly in America of any age, who is undefeated this season and very impressive, albeit without the same kind of portfolio.
Winter Memories goes Sunday in the Lake Placid, for which she is the 4-5 early line favorite. Stay tuned. This Eclipse race is just beginning to heat up.
* * *
Travers Week begins Sunday and the boys are going through their last minute paces.
The Jim Dandy winning Stay Thirsty works Sunday morning, along with King’s Bishop hopeful, Uncle Mo.
Remember Uncle Mo?
Meanwhile, the Preakness winner, Shackleford, has turned into the Iron Horse of his generation. At least that’s what his trainer says, without using those exact words.
“He finished very strong,” said Dale Romans, after his colt worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.87, galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.40.
“I haven’t seen that in a lot of my horses working here. It seems like down the stretch has been a little slower than the backside.
“He just keeps getting better. He’s one of the few horses I’ve ever had that the more work he does the better he gets.
“He came out of the Haskell in great shape. We’re going to be even weight with Coil and we’ll see what happens.”
If Coil makes the race, that is. When he worked with a stablemate this week, trainer Bob Baffert was disappointed by the move, then, after seeing video, he thought it was better than he first suspected.
But now comes news that he sustained an eye injury but the barn is still hopeful that he’ll make the race. If he has any serious designs on the 3-yerar-old championship, making the race sounds like a plan.
This weekend, and closing weekend, will belong to the fillies in this, the year of the filly. The 3-year-olds will settle things Saturday afternoon at 10 furlongs, the Travers distance, appropriately.
But the older fillies, the two that were ranked 1-2 in the NTRA Poll for older horses--until Tizway won the Whitney two weeks ago--are stepping up to meet the boys.
For both, this could represent a drop in class. Everyone would like to see Harve De Grace and Blind Luck take on each other in the mile and a quarter Personal Ensign.
But owner Rick Porter has resisted meeting Blind Luck at 10 furlongs, for one reason or another, and will take on males in the storied Woodward closing weekend.
It doesn’t have quite the same sexiness as when a 3-year-old filly tried and succeeded two years ago, essentially earning the Horse of the Year title for Rachel Alexandra.
Porter obviously took note and will try to replicate that feat with his 4-year-old filly. Avoid Blind Luck at 10 furlongs and give yourself a Horse of the Year boost in the process, which also sounds like a plan.
But Hall of Fame Hollendorfer knows how to play this game, too. He’s not coming for the Personal Ensign either, leaving that race without a star attraction, meaning that Todd Pletcher will probably enter four fillies in the spot.
No, this time Hollendorfer will not cross the Mississippi with his wonderful filly, opting instead for the million dollar Pacific Classic against the boys where the surf meets the turf.
But all that’s in the future as we await the Alabama, now just two hours away.