Trainer Tom Albertrani did a masterful job getting Godolphin's Anjaz ready to roll with more than a seven-month gap between races, and the 5-year-old mare rewarded that effort March 29 with a decisive gate-to-wire victory in the $150,000 Orchid Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO).
Anjaz, who was scratched out of Gulfstream's The Very One Stakes (gr. IIIT) Feb. 22 when she was fractious in the gate, last raced Aug. 5 when she was runner-up, 1 3/4 lengths behind Qushchi, in the Aug. 5 Waya Stakes going 1 1/2 miles on the Saratoga Race Course inner lawn. She was no stranger to the Orchid, however. After making her first seven starts in Great Britain, her U.S. debut was a fourth-place finish in last year's edition.
"They've been struggling with her, and it's just a relief. Everyone's overjoyed, and that's what people want," said Albertrani's assistant, Joe Murphy. "Tommy"s done an excellent job prepping her for this...he did a great job with her, and I think she can do a little bit more."
Returning from her hiatus with New York jockey Rajiv Maragh in to ride, the daughter of Street Cry (IRE) did not disappoint as she led throughout, setting early fractions of :24.74, :49.18, and 1:14.17. Viva Rafaela, alternately tracking a length to a length and a half back of the leader's outside flank, prompted the pace under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez but could never quite get on even terms.
Anjaz posted a mile in 1:37.95 and had plenty of run left to hold off her seven rivals coming off the final turn. She responded straight and true when set down for the drive and drew to a 2 1/2-length win. Viva Rafaela was best of the rest, while Clearbrook, half a length back, gained the show.
"The race played out really good," Maragh said. "She broke really sharp and took me around the track very comfortably in the beginning, and I had a lot left to finish with.
"Once she established the lead, it was a mile and a half so everyone was pretty much being patient with a long distance to go. All the horses got into a nice flow. It was a pretty steady kind of race. I was fortunate to get it easy, and I'll take it like that. It worked out pretty good."
Off at odds of 5-1, Anjaz returned $12, $6.20, and $4.20. Viva Rafaela paid $8.20 and $5, with Clearbrook bringing $7.20. Caroline Thomas, Stick to Your Guns, 9-5 favorite Aigue Marine, Inimitable Romanee, and Hunter Forward completed the order of finish. Antonia Autumn scratched.
Anjaz was bred in Kentucky by Darley out of the group I-winning Sadler's Wells mare Playful Act. She is a half sister to the grade II-winning Giant's Causeway runner Giants Play, who won the New York Stakes (gr. IIT) in 2011 at Belmont Park and was third in that year's edition of the Orchid. This victory improved her record from 12 starts to 4-2-1, with earnings of $195,378. She notched two wins before coming to the U.S. in 2013; this was her first North American victory and her first graded stakes score.
"We worked hard, and it worked out; when I saw 49 I knew she'd be playing with them," Murphy said. "Rajiv held her together, and that's all we wanted to do. Tommy would have to make the next call, but hopefully, I think she has a couple more in her."