Three stakes take center stage in this week’s juvenile filly review – an historic victory at Saratoga, an upset at Del Mar and continuing perfection at Gulfstream Park.
First up is the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, which saw the first dead heat in 125 runnings of the race when SWEET LORETTA and PRETTY CITY DANCER hit the wire at the exact same moment.
That wasn’t all the two daughters of Tapit hit, as they bounced off each other while duking it out in the stretch.
Sweet Loretta broke a bit slow but quickly moved up the inside to race just behind the dueling trio of Runway Doll, even-money favorite Cherry Lodge and You Know Too. Pretty City Dancer was widest of three while biding her time behind Sweet Loretta.
You Know Too began fading leaving the backstretch and Sweet Loretta angled out just a bit to continue her momentum as that one backed up. Pretty City Dancer was beginning her run as well, and the two hooked up in the center of the track.
Sweet Loretta had the lead for much of that time while coming out. Pretty City Dancer gradually drew even while at the same time coming in. The two lasses bounced off one another right at the finish, but that didn’t stop them from getting their noses on the wire at the exact same moment.
Sweet Loretta is trained by Todd Pletcher and moved her career mark to a perfect three-for-three in the Spinaway. She broke her maiden by seven lengths on June 18 at Monmouth Park before adding the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) to her resume last out on July 22.
"She's handled each step up in class and stretch out in distance," Pletcher praised. "She was getting a little bit tired at the end of the race but that was to be expected. She was stalking some fairly solid fractions. We've always been optimistic that she'll continue to stretch out."
While Pletcher didn’t indicate where Sweet Loretta will go next, assistant trainer Norman Casse said Pretty City Dancer was headed to the Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on October 7.
Pretty City Dancer moved her record to 4-3-0-1 with the Spinaway score. She broke her maiden in her second try at Churchill Downs on May 27 and then captured the Debutante Stakes under the Twin Spires on July 2.
The Spinaway winners each earned an 87 BRIS Speed rating for their historic triumph.
The Del Mar Debutante (G1) was run much later in the day and featured the second start of popular filly American Cleopatra, or “Cleo” as she is called by some of her fans.
The full sister to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah was making her stakes bow in the seven-furlong contest and favored to win at 8-5.
American Cleopatra reputed herself well while, unfortunately, suffering her first loss. The Bob Baffert pupil tracked the early pace set by Morganite, who veered sharply to the left into Miss Southern Miss when the gates opened.
Morganite headed straight up the inside to lead the way with American Cleopatra easily keeping pace just outside and behind. “Cleo” moved under her own power to take over entering the turn, but found company in the form of Champagne Room.
Meanwhile, UNION STRIKE found herself widest of all pretty much throughout the race. The Shelbe Ruis trainee backed up a bit on the backstretch to be next to last, but came under a hard ride from jockey Martin Garcia entering the turn.
Union Strike responded while maintaining her wide run. The dark bay daughter of Union Rags kept motoring in the lane to run down American Cleopatra and Champagne Room, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths on the wire.
Union Strike broke her maiden in the Del Mar Debutante and gained a measure of revenge on American Cleopatra at the same time. They both debuted in the same July 31 maiden special weight at Del Mar, with American Cleopatra getting the victory that day by two lengths over Union Strike in second.
Both fillies improved off that performance in the Del Mar Debutante, with Union Strike earning a 92 BRIS Speed rating and American Cleopatra garnering an 88 figure.
“She’s a nice filly and everything went pretty smooth getting her ready for this race. Her only issue was the gate. She broke slowly in her first race, but we worked on it and she broke good this time. She gets a little nervous in there, but I think the outside post this time really helped, too,” Ruis said.
“We always thought she would turn out to be a really nice horse and she has so far. We didn’t have any worries going up against those other horses. They had all the pressure. We were the longshot, but we knew what we had so we were really excited.”
Garcia also partly credited Union Strike’s improvement to an equipment change.
“I’ve worked this filly the last few times and I broke her out of the gate one time (August 22 work, 5f in 1:00). Something wasn’t quite right,” he explained. “The gateman (assistant starter) suggested we try a different bit on her. The one they were using was too strong.
“So they made the change and it’s made a big difference. She was a runner today. And I think the farther they go, the better she’s going to be.”
Also Saturday at Gulfstream Park, CAJUN DELTA DAWN continued her successful run in the track’s Florida Sire Stakes series with a five-length romp in the Susan’s Girl division for trainer David Fawkes.
The bay miss broke from the inside stall over the wet-fast, sealed track. She was challenged on the outside by both Lu Lu Laura, who set the opening quarter in :22.24, and Sweet Tooth Haven.
Cajun Delta Dawn took over entering the turn while still under a hand ride from jockey Juan Leyva and easily pulled away in the lane to move her record to a perfect four-for-four.
The Kantharos filly is slowly increasing in distance, having broken her maiden going five furlongs on June 10, taking the 5 1/2-furlong Cassidy Stakes on July 2 and adding the first division of the Florida Sire Stakes, the six-furlong Desert Vixen, to her resume on August 6.
Cajun Delta Dawn is staying consistent on her BRIS Speed numbers while facing stakes rivals (86-88-86).
“She’s done everything right. She gave me more confidence today than in any of her other races,” trainer David Fawkes said. “It was an impressive race. She was just galloping along, enjoying herself.”
Next up for Cajun Delta Dawn is the final leg of the Florida Sire Stakes, the October 1 My Dear Girl division which will send the bay miss around two turns for the first time while trying 1 1/16 miles.
Fawkes, however, isn’t worried about his charge’s stretch out and two-turn debut.
“It sure doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem,” he said.