VANITY HANDICAP | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Teamed with Gary Stevens for the first time, stalking Byrama drew off in the stretch to become a Grade 1 winner in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap June 15 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
The British-bred 4-year-old filly had done most of her running in turf sprints, but she handled the Vanity's 1 1/8-mile distance while racing without blinkers for trainer Simon Callaghan. Byrama reeled in pacesetter Royal Tiger at the quarter pole and put away More Chocolate in the stretch to win convincingly by 3 ½ lengths at odds of 6-1. The winning time was 1:51.40 over Hollywood's Cushion Track.
The Hall of Fame rider Stevens, who launched a comeback at age 50 earlier this year, continues to produce winners at the highest levels of American racing, winning the Preakness Stakes on Oxbow last month. He earned his first win at the historic track in nearly eight years with a thrilling victory aboard Marketing Mix in the Gamely Stakes May 27
Stevens last captured the Vanity in 2001 with Gourmet Girl and also won aboard Private Persuasion in 1995.
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Byrama was bred by Ermyn Lodge Stud. The bay filly is by Byron out of the Darshaan mare Aymara. She snapped a six-race losing streak with her first victory in a graded stakes.
More Chocolate was second, with 8-5 favorite Lady of Fifty third.
Byrama signaled her fondness for synthetic surfaces when she was beaten by a neck while second in the Madison Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland April 13. She regressed, however, when sixth in the Humana Distaff on a sloppy, sealed Churchill Downs strip May 4.
"Just a great race for this filly,'' said Stevens, the only jockey to have won a grade I at the current meet. "Distance was the question. We didn't have any cover going around the first turn and I was a little worried about that, but then she settled in well into a real nice rhythm."
Callaghan said he will keep her on artificial tracks in the immediate future.
"She loves the synthetic, so we'll definitely keep her on that,'' he said. "It's great to get a grade I win with her because, respectfully, she was the best filly that day at Keeneland and to get it done today is fantastic.''
A modest field of six older fillies and mares was entered for the final Vanity to be held at Hollywood Park, a race with a great history. In recent times, 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri won the Vanity twice in 2002-03, and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta captured the Vanity three consecutive years, 2008-10.
Royal Tiger was determined to get to the front, sprinting clear of Esentepe shortly after the break with Byrama settling third along the inside. Royal Tiger opened up a five-length advantage after a half mile in fractions of :23.53 and :47.14, but the advantage was dwindling as they completed six furlongs in 1:11.74.
With a quarter mile to run, Royal Tiger was under heavy pressure from Byrama between horses and 5-2 second choice More Chocolate on the outside, and she quickly dropped out. The two leaders appeared headed for a prolonged stretch battle, but Byrama drove clear in the drive under some urging from Stevens and pulled away in the final furlong.
"Actually, I made her kick a little earlier than I would have liked," Stevens said. "Her run is only about an eighth of a mile and I had to use her between the quarter pole and the eighth pole and she was able to float home the last sixteenth of a mile."
"She put [More Chocolate] away and nobody else was really running. She's a wonderful filly. She probably deserved to win the Madison at Keeneland and we are probably going to get some more grade I wins with her.''
More Chocolate, ridden by Edwin Maldonado, finished 1 ¼ lengths in front of Lady of Fifty, who never threatened under Rafale Bejarano. Royal Tiger and Open Water followed, while Esentepe was eased.
Trainer Sadler wasn't discouraged by the effort of More Chocolate, who tried the winner early in the stretch but couldn't match strides.
"I thought she was going to win on the turn, we got really excited at the quarter pole,'' said Sadler. "She might have hung just a little bit. It was a good second for her first time on synthetic.''
Winning for the first time in six starts this year, Byrama upped her career mark to 5-4-6 in 19 starts while banking $484,750. She previously won the six-furlong Manhattan Beach Stakes on the Hollywood turf one year ago, and also took the Unzip Me Stakes on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita Park last September.
Carrying 117 pounds, she paid $14, $6.20, and $3 as the second-longest shot on the board. More Chocolate returned $3.60 and $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $39.40. The show on Bayakoa Handicap winner Lady of Fifty was $2.20.