QUEEN ELIZABETH II CHALLENGE CUP S. | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD | FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 1 1 /8 MILES
Nearly six months after her impressive wire job in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, Dayatthespa returned to the Lexington, Kentucky, turf and repeated the feat in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The Chad Brown trainee got away with a leisurely pace for Javier Castellano, quickened stylishly, and extended her 2012 mark to a perfect five-for-five.
When asked about the possibility of advancing to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Brown sounded cautious.
"I'll talk it over with all the partners," the trainer said, alluding to Jerry Frankel, Ronald Frankel, Steve Laymon and Bradley Thoroughbreds.
"Right now, that's not the way we were thinking going into the race. You never know. She may go a little bit further than this, but we'll just enjoy this and plan out the rest of her year from here."
Dayatthespa was dispatched as the 3-1 second choice, with Stephanie's Kitten accorded 2-1 favoritism. Breaking from the outside post 8, the daughter of City Zip showed her customary early speed and took over through an opening quarter in :24 2/5 on the firm turf.
Centre Court conceded the lead and settled into a stalking position. Better Lucky moved up along the inside to track in second, while Stephanie's Kitten was reserved in midpack, followed by Treasured Up, Dayatthespa's stablemate Samitar, Somali Lemonade and Tannery.
Under masterful rating by Castellano, Dayatthespa slowed the tempo down to :49 and 1:13 4/5. Then the front runner picked up the pace turning for home. Centre Court tried to rally, but the winner had still another gear up her sleeve.
After passing the mile split in 1:37 2/5, Dayatthespa blitzed her final eighth in :11 2/5 and widened her advantage to two lengths at the wire. She covered 1 1/8 grassy miles in 1:48 4/5 and paid $8.60, $4.40 and $3.60.
"I handicapped the race, and I didn't see a lot of speed in the race," Castellano said. "Only one horse had speed. I thought the pace was going to be moderate today, and I took advantage. My filly, she's really quick out of the gate. On the turn for home at the quarter-pole, I asked her a little bit and she responded. When she took off, I just let her go -- hand ride."
"I was pleasantly surprised," Brown said of the pace scenario. "We thought it could end up like that on paper, but you never know. You've got great jockeys riding in this race; a lot of them can handicap well. I didn't know what everyone was going to do. When I saw the three-quarters up in (a minute) :13, I was feeling pretty good."
Runner-up Centre Court had a half-length to spare over Better Lucky, who held third by a diminishing nose from Samitar. Somali Lemonade, Stephanie's Kitten, Treasured Up and Tannery completed the order of finish.
"The slow pace in a way hurt us," Centre Court's rider Julien Leparoux said, "but she ran good. I mean, she made her run. She closed and she finished very strong, you know, so she did her race."
Better Lucky's connections were thrilled with her Grade 1 placing.
"I thought she ran very well," jockey Shaun Bridgmohan said. "She was well placed throughout and the winner was always traveling good. When I looked up I could see he (Castellano on Dayatthespa) was full of horse, but my horse hung in there real well. In her defense, she's a filly that tries hard. She gives you everything she's got."
"I thought she was in perfect position," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "Shaun had her right to the outside. We were in a good spot. The winner was just traveling so well, he was content to stay where he was. I'm just proud she held third, so we're happy with the way she ran."
Stephanie's Kitten (behind on right) likely took herself out of BC consideration with her disappointing effort (Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos)
Stephanie's Kitten's disappointing performance was a puzzle to her team.
"I had a perfect trip," Hall of Famer John Velazquez said. "It was a slow pace and I was right where I wanted to be. It is a big disappointment that she really didn't try very much today. I was right behind the winner. I had all the shot that I wanted. She just didn't have it today."
"It's a surprising race for us," trainer Wayne Catalano said. "We've never had one run like that. I don't know if she liked the turf course or not with the speed on there.
"You'd hate to go to the Breeders' Cup off a race like that," the trainer added, saying that she probably wouldn't head to Santa Anita.
Dayatthespa has raced exclusively on turf, compiling an overall record of 8-6-1-0, $574,892. An impressive four-length debut winner at Saratoga last summer, she finished second next out in the Grade 3 Natalma at Woodbine. She concluded her 2011 season with a thoroughly uncharacteristic ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, where the rain-softened ground went against her.
The New York-bred has prospered on firm turf this year. Opening her campaign at Gulfstream Park, she rallied from far back to capture the January 22 Sweetest Chant and later stalked and pounced in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride on March 11. Dayatthespa made it three in a row with her front-running coup in the April 19 Appalachian, beating Somali Lemonade by 2 3/4 lengths. She was not seen again for four months, but picked up right where she left off with a comfortable success in the August 31 Riskaverse at the Spa.
"As she grows and matures," Brown said, "she's become more settled, which has helped us train her and has helped Javier rate her, and I think her best days are ahead of her."
Bred by Castellare DiCracchiolo Stable, Cracchiolo and Goldsher, Dayatthespa was a $50,000 yearling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred Preferred Sale. She is out of the Doc's Leader mare M'Lady Doc, who is herself a full sister to Grade 3 hero Phi Beta Doc. This is the family of Clev Er Tell, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and Grade 2 Arkansas Derby winner of 1977; New Zealand Group 1 sprint star Gold Trail; and Grade 2 victress Tricky Code, the dam of Japanese champion sprinter and hot young sire Hat Trick.