Edited NYRA Release – Andrew Rosen’s British homebred Skims broke through at graded level with an impressive one-length score under Hall of Famer John Velazquez in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Sands Point, a nine-furlong inner turf test for sophomore fillies at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the Frankel bay made her fourth graded attempt a winning one with a powerful stalking performance, staving off returning rival Vergara, who had bested her by a head last out in the Dueling Grounds Oaks on September 5 at Kentucky Downs.
Rosen made the final decision to run at the Big A instead of in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II won earlier today by Gina Romantica at Keeneland.
“It’s amazing. It’s good to have a plan and have it come together and work out the way it did,” Rosen said. “He’s [Frankel] really taken over, I think, as the best sire in the world. I was wondering when my Frankel was finally going to win a stake and it’s exciting that it was today and I could be here.”
Hail To broke alertly and marked the opening quarter-mile in 25.44 seconds over the good going in front of Lady Baffled, who made an aggressive move to sit outside the leader as the field turned into the backstretch.
Skims, who exited the inside post, moved into third position between the leaders as the half-mile ticked by in 50.91 and advanced with purpose into the final turn as Hail To and Lady Baffled gave way. The ground-saving Vergara was angled outside of Hail To by Joel Rosario late in the turn and chased in vain from the top of the lane as Eminent Victor, who bobbled at the start, made her late run. But there was no catching an exuberant Skims, who bounded under the wire in a final time of 1:51.14.
Vergara stayed on strong to complete the exacta by 1 1/4-lengths over Eminent Victor with Pizza Bianca, last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, rallying wide to finish fourth in her first start since an off-the-board effort in the Group 1 Coronation in June at Royal Ascot. Spirit And Glory, Canisy, Hail To and Lady Baffled rounded out the order of finish. Golden Rocket and main-track only entrant Baby Man were scratched.
It was a record-equaling third Sands Point score for Velazquez, who won the inaugural running with Perfect Sting  and followed six years later with Melhor Ainda. The veteran rider said he was intent on getting the jump on Vergara.
“One of the horses to beat [Vergara] sat inside, and I was not going to let them through in there – if he is going to follow, he’ll have to follow me,” Velazquez said. “So, the other horse started getting out and I let her run to close the hole, so that made the difference I think, instead of sitting there and letting the horse get through and then I’ll be mad waiting there. So, I might as well take the chance when I had it.
“She was [willing to go on], but then she started lugging in,” he added. “[So, I] put the crop to the other side, showed it to her, she respected it and she went on. That was a good thing.”
Skims graduated at second asking in November traveling 1 1/16-miles over firm going in her only previous effort over the Big A green. She launched her sophomore season with a narrow optional-claiming win in February at Tampa Bay Downs ahead of third-place finishes in the one-mile Grade 2 Appalachian at Keeneland and the nine-furlong Grade 2 Wonder Again at Belmont Park.
Following two off-the-board efforts at Saratoga Race Course – defeated less than three lengths on both occasions – in the Grade 3 Lake George and restricted Riskaverse, Skims showed renewed form last out with a narrow head defeat when closing four-wide to the rail-skimming Vergara in the Dueling Grounds Oaks.
McGaughey said Velazquez anticipated Hail To and Lady Baffled would be battling on the lead.
“I said from the inside, I thought if he [Velazquez] broke well, then maybe he would be on the lead,” said McGaughey, who won the 2016 Sands Point with On Leave. “He felt those two horses would go and he said he just wanted to reverse from what beat her at Kentucky Downs. He said he held her in there and then when he went, he said he had a lot of horse.”
Three-time Sands Point-winner Rosario, who engineered Vergara’s Dueling Grounds Oaks score, said his filly was unlucky traveling behind the Jose Lezcano-piloted Hail To.
“I broke with the intention to be forwardly placed and it looked like the horse in the lead had to go on, so I just sat behind them inside,” Rosario said. “It was a good trip until the three-eighths, and then his horse [Hail to] kind of came out a little and I decided to go inside. Then he came back again, so I had to stop a little bit. That’s a little hard sometimes in the turn, but she was game and came back and fought again. I had an unlucky trip.”
McGaughey said Skims could come under consideration for the 10-furlong Grade 1, $300,000 American Oaks on December 26 at Santa Anita.
“It’s going long and that’s what she wants to do. She wants to go a distance of ground,” McGaughey said. “We might give her time, too, or take her to Florida and see what happens. We’ll put our heads together, figure it out and see how she comes out of it.
“We’re a little bit ahead of the game now,” he continued. “She’s a graded stakes winner, she’s placed in a few other stakes, so her resume looks pretty good.”
Skims banked $110,000 in victory while improving her record to 9-3-1-2. She returned $11.20 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Sunday at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet with a nine-race card featuring the $150,000 Floral Park in Race 8. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of every day of Belmont at the Big A on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.