TOP FLIGHT HANDICAP | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES
Gillian S. Campbell, Dan Clark, Greg Skoda and breeder Greenwood Lodge Farm's Summer Applause was unable to factor in the Houston Ladies Classic in her return from a near nine-month layoff last out, but on Saturday at Aqueduct the Harlan's Holiday filly showed her class when running away with the Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap.
Neither Withgreatpleasure nor Natalie Victoria broke well from the gate, with the former hopping at the start and the latter hitting the side of the stalls. Natalie Victoria was rank after her dismal beginning and took after early pacesetter Sisterly Love, who also broke a bit awkwardly, to set initial splits of :23 2/5 and :47. Sisterly Love came back after being passed and grabbed command through three-quarters in 1:11 4/5, but found company in the form of Withgreatpleasure and Summer Applause rounding the turn.
Summer Applause had taken up a stalking position on the backstretch under jockey John Velazquez, but was more than willing to go after the leader around the far turn. The four-year-old miss eagerly engaged Sisterly Love while three wide and had taken over entering the stretch, pulling off for the 2 3/4-length win.
"When the two horses didn't break, I tried to just come out and get a nice position going into the first turn," Velazquez explained. "At the 3 1/2, I let her go. I watched [her past] races, and it seemed like if she is close to the pace she finishes better. Last time, I didn't ride her, but she was too far back and didn't really put in any effort. Today, she's where she wanted to be.
"When she got to the lead, she started waiting and lugging in, but she got the job done, anyway," he added.
Summer Applause lived up to her odds as the 6-5 favorite, returning $4.60, $3.30 and $2.40 to her many backers after completing 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.
"She shipped in, she's had no problems with the weather or the climate change and she's been training well the two days she's been here," assistant trainer Cherie DeVaux said. "She looks great and they did a really good job with her in Florida getting her ready to come up here for today."
Twice the Lady just held Sunny Desert by a neck on the wire to take second while Lady Gracenote followed the top three under the line. Sisterly Love, Withgreatpleasure and Natalie Victoria completed the order of finish after Royal Lahaina was withdrawn.
Summer Applause made a name for herself last year while preparing for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. After a pair of easy wins to close out her juvenile campaign, including a seven-length romp at Fair Grounds, the filly started 2012 with a runner-up effort in the Silverbulletday at that New Orleans venue. She got back on the winning track in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra, and made her final prep before the Oaks a head second in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks to eventual Kentucky Oaks heroine Believe You Can.
After a nice run to be fourth under the Twin Spires on the eve of the Kentucky Derby, Summer Applause wouldn't be seen again until January 26 at Sam Houston in Texas, where she wound up sixth and last in her final race for trainer Bret Calhoun. Making her initial start for conditioner Chad Brown in the Top Flight, the Kentucky-bred miss has now earned $472,406 to go along with her 9-4-2-0 career mark.
Summer Applause, who RNAed for $82,000 as a Fasig-Tipton July Sale yearling, is out of the unraced Royal Academy mare Summer Exhibition, making her a half-sister to duel stakes-placed Big Easy.
Summer Exhibition is herself a daughter of stakes victress Dewan's Flag and counts as half-siblings Grade 2 hero Recoup the Cash, stakes scorer Up With the Flag and the dam of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Praise From Dixie.
Summer Applause's female family also includes Canadian Horses of the Year Victoria Park, Viceregal and Canadiana, as well as Canadian champion Northern Blossom.