GLENS FALLS S. | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 1 | 1 3/8 MILES (TURF)
Former Canadian champion Irish Mission has been gradually recapturing her old sparkle since switching to Christophe Clement this season, and the Robert S. Evans color bearer underscored her renaissance in Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls at Saratoga. With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez masterminding a textbook stalk-and-pounce trip, she collared pacesetter Viva Rafaela in the final strides, earning her first stakes victory in more than two years.
Irish Mission was one of a trio entered by Clement, along with 5-2 morning-line favorite Aigue Marine and the main-track-only Lady Cohiba. The latter, who won last year's off-the-turf edition, didn't get the chance to defend her title when the Glens Falls remained on the inner turf. Although Irish Mission was listed at 6-1 in the program, the classy chestnut was bet down to 3-1 favoritism, and the market got it right.
As usual, Viva Rafaela set up shop on the front end and carved out leisurely fractions of :24 ⅘ seconds, :49 ⅗ seconds and 1:15 ⅖ on the firm course. Pleasant Cat, the longest shot on the board at 36-1, was perched in a non-threatening second, while Irish Mission was perfectly spotted in a hedge-skimming third, and Watsdachances was wider out in fourth.
Viva Rafaela began to inject more pace through a mile in 1:39 4/5 and tried to put the race away entering the homestretch. Still two lengths in front at the eighth-pole, the longtime leader reached the 1 ¼-mile split in 2:03 ⅖.
But Velazquez peeled Irish Mission off the fence and came around to accost Viva Rafaela. Rallying with gusto once seeing daylight, Irish Mission overhauled Viva Rafaela by a half-length and completed 1 ⅜ miles in 2:15. The winner rewarded her backers with an $8.50 win mutuel.
Caroline Thomas, who had been last of the octet for much of the way, also finished with a flourish to grab third, just a neck behind Viva Rafaela. Watsdachances ran evenly in fourth, followed by Aigue Marine, Cat's Claw, Emotional Kitten and Pleasant Cat. Baffle Me was scratched.
Irish Mission has now bankrolled $1,183,443 from her 25-5-6-2 line. Initially trained by Mark Frostad, the daughter of Giant's Causeway took seven tries to break her maiden, but then made rapid progress. After capturing a maiden on the Keeneland turf in April 2012, she came right back to land the Woodbine Oaks. Irish Mission competed against males in all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, closing for second in the Queen's Plate, fading to sixth in the Prince of Wales in her only dirt attempt, and scoring a classic win in the Breeders' Stakes back on turf.
Although she ended her sophomore year with a fifth versus older males in the Northern Dancer Turf, Irish Mission had done enough to merit two Sovereign Awards as Canada's champion three-year-old filly and turf female.
Irish Mission couldn't scale the same heights as a four-year-old. Her 2013 campaign included placings in the Orchid and the Nassau, but her only win came in a Woodbine allowance. Beaten a scant length in fourth in when taking another crack at the Northern Dancer, Irish Mission failed to build on that effort next time in the E.P. Taylor, where she checked in seventh.
Evans kept Irish Mission in training and transferred her to Clement. Last of seven over an inadequate 1 1/16 miles in the May 3 Beaugay in her reappearance, the five-year-old was a staying-on third in the May 24 Sheepshead Bay at 1 ⅜ miles. Irish Mission stepped up to two miles for the inaugural Belmont Gold Cup versus males on June 6, finishing a gallant second. Back down in trip for the 1 ⅛-mile Matchmaker on Haskell Day at Monmouth, she was a strong runner-up again, and regained the winning thread at a more suitable distance here.
Bred by Sam-Son Farm in Ontario, Irish Mission sold for $375,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. She is a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 scorer French Beret. They were produced by the Miswaki mare Misty Mission, heroine of the 2000 Wonder Where, who is in turn a half-sister to Canadian champion Comet Shine.
Irish Mission's second dam, Hangin on a Star, earned her signature win in the 1987 Breeders' Stakes. Hangin on a Star is a half-sister to two-time Canadian champion Rainbow Connection, the dam of three-time Sovereign Award winner Rainbows for Life and ancestress of Eclipse champion Tempera.