RUFFIAN STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 2 | 1 MILE
After looking beat nearing the turn in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian Stakes at Belmont Park, Fiftyshadesofhay rallied down the center of the track to take the one-mile contest by three parts of a length over Grace Hall and My Wandy's Girl.
The Pulpit filly ran wide throughout the one-turn contest as Six Queens set a pressured pace of :22 ⅕ seconds and :45 ⅕ seconds. My Wandy's Girl, the 8-5 second choice, was keeping that one company on the front end as Fiftyshadesofhay and jockey John Velazquez were settled near the rear. The bay miss was already under a ride entering the turn, and Grace Hall looked more of a threat as she ranged up to the outside of the now-in-command Wandy's Girl.
The new leader was fighting a losing battle to stay in front as Grace Hall tenaciously ate away at her advantage. Meanwhile, Fiftyshadesofhay had slipped over to the rail rounding the turn and started making up ground before angling to the outside. She kept coming and just got the victory over the still dueling duo of Grace Hall and My Wandy's Girl in a final time of 1:35 ⅗.
"I was on the outside the whole backstretch and she didn't seem like she was going anywhere," Velazquez said. "They were going fast enough, so I thought I'd try to save some ground and put her behind horses and hopefully I'd get somewhere. By the three-eighths pole she started moving. I finally got out about the three-sixteenths pole and she responded.
"As soon as I got to the clear, she was running so good, I thought 'She's going to get there.' Not only did she get there, when she put a head in front she wanted to pull up. I said, 'Don't do that now, keep running.'"
Sent off the 8-5 favorite, Fiftyshadesofhay paid $5.40 for the win. Trained by Bob Baffert, she is campaigned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman.
"She had me a little worried there the way [track announcer Tom] Durkin was calling her," Baffert admitted. "I saw her way behind and I saw the hot pace, so I thought we had a chance. I told John [Velazquez] to ride her however he wanted, so I guess he knew what he was doing. It worked out that way at Pimlico last year [in the Black-Eyed Susan], and she won. She likes to run from off the pace, but you can't really do that in California."
Grace Hall just nipped My Wandy's Girl by a nose on the wire, while Six Queens completed the top four another 3 ½ lengths back. Toasting got the best of Parc Monceau by a neck to complete the order of finish.
"I thought she ran a very good race. We just got beat," trainer Bill Mott praised Grace Hall. "Our filly has been off a year. It was a very good effort for a horse who has been off a year. As long as she comes back good and we give her enough time between races, it should help her."
"She did everything I asked her to do. It look a lot of time to pass [My Wandy's Girl], but she ran good. With the layoff she had, I thought it was a good race," jockey Joel Rosario agreed about Grace Hall.
Fiftyshadesofhay took four tries to break her maiden, finally getting the job done in November 2012 over the synthetic Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. That was the filly's juvenile finale, and her next win came two races later when romping by 5 3/4 lengths in the Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita. The bay miss then placed in both the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks, before shipping cross-country to add Pimlico's Black-Eyed Susan to her resume.
Following her Iowa Oaks victory next out, Fiftyshadesofhay traveled to Saratoga for the Alabama, where she ran second. She placed in her final pair of starts as a sophomore, the Indiana Oaks and Bayakoa, and opened 2014 with a close fourth in the La Canada on January 19. The filly entered Sunday's score off a subpar sixth in the Santa Margarita in mid-March.
Fiftyshadesofhay shipped from her Santa Anita base to Churchill Downs in late April, recording a pair of bullet works at the Louisville, Kentucky, track, before continuing her journey north to Belmont Park for the Ruffian. This return to the winner's circle, her first since taking the Iowa Oaks last June, saw her career record improve to 16-5-4-3, $946,547.
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Fiftyshadesofhay sold for $175,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Her dam, the Real Quiet mare Quiet Kim, also placed in the Santa Anita Oaks back in 2006.
Fiftyshadesofhay counts as her fourth dam the stakes-winning It's Freezing mare Ice Fantasy. That one would produce dual Grade 3 victor Fighting Fantasy as well as the dams of Grade 1 winner Snow Ridge and classic-placed Grade 2 scorer Sweetnorthernsaint.
Also descended from Ice Fantasy are 2010 Travers hero Afleet Express, Grade 2 scorer Eye of the Tiger and Grade 2 victress My Miss Sophia, who just ran second in the Kentucky Oaks on May 2.