Include Me Out is just full of surprises these days.
There she was, at 12-1, in last year's Breeder's Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I), charging up to the flank of the 8-5 favorite Royal Delta as if she were going to pose a major threat to the defending champion. Having just finished a non-threatening third in the grade I Zenyatta Stakes, few felt she'd make any kind of impact on the Ladies Classic, which also featured major stakes winners My Miss Aurelia, Awesome Feather, and Questing.
Include Me Out couldn't get past Royal Delta and lost second to My Miss Aurelia, but her third-place finish provided plenty of thrills for owner Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable and trainer Ron Ellis.
"I thought she was going to win the Ladies Classic," Siegel said. "Ron always thought that she was a little tired towards the end of the year."
They decided to give her some time off, and brought her back 7 1/2 months later in the six-furlong Desert Stormer Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park. The 5-year-old daughter of Include had shown good speed sprinting early in her career, but hadn't sprinted since Dec. 31, 2011.
Ellis felt he'd bring her back in a dash just to sharpen her up to prepare her for another crack at the Aug. 3 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I), which she won last year by a neck as the 8-5 favorite.
Siegel and Ellis were surprised once again when Include Me Out, sent off at 4-1, came charging down the stretch to win the Desert Stormer by three-quarters of a length in 1:10.32 over the Cushion Track.
"I was shocked how easily she won her first race this year because we hadn't turned any screws," Siegel said. "Ron was right about her energy level last year. She's got so much more energy right now and is really feeling great. I'm hoping her races this year will be like her early races from last year. I don't see her pulling herself up when she makes the lead this year like she started doing last summer."
Ellis added, "She had been out for over seven months and was facing a top field. The race was designed to be a workout. She had never won a stakes sprinting, so we had no allusions. I thought she ran a super race, pulling Joe Talamo out of the saddle. He never uncorked his stick, and it was basically a workout."
The trainer would love to see Include Me Out have a big year and finally get some respect, which he felt she didn't get last year despite winning the Santa Margarita (gr. I), Clement Hirsch, La Canada Stakes (gr. II), and Marjorie L. Everett Handicap (gr. II), and placing in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, Vanity Handicap (gr. I), and Zenyatta Stakes.
"The Daily Racing Form didn't even rank her in the list of Top 10 fillies, which I thought was kind of embarrassing," Ellis said. "One of the reasons might be an East Coast bias. There are more tracks and bigger races back east. We're on an island out here, so it hurts if you're trying to be in the national spotlight. Fortunately, the Breeders' Cup is back here this year and she likes Santa Anita.
"Last year, we tried to pace her races after the Santa Margarita. This year, we wanted to give her a shot at the Breeders' Cup, so we turned her out after last year's Ladies Classic. I'm hoping she's an even better, stronger filly this year, and the Desert Stormer certainly didn't do anything to deflate my optimism."
As for another meeting with Royal Delta, Ellis said, "I don't think anyone should go out looking for a showdown with Royal Delta, but I wouldn't back down from her if my filly is as good as she was last year. She doesn't have a lot of foundation, so she's a touch vulnerable in (the Clement Hirsch), but she's also a stronger filly this year. If she comes up a little short, it's not the worst thing to happen. We'll just move forward and hopefully get another chance at Royal Delta.
"Samantha has been wonderful to work with. When horses need time she's all for it. She's always helpful and never puts any pressure on you."
If there is one thing you have to admire about Include Me Out it is her consistency and versatility. She's won seven of her 14 career starts and has been in the money 12 times. Of the two races she wasn't, one was her career debut, in which she was forced to steady, and the other was in the La Brea Stakes, jumping from allowance/optional claiming races into a grade I. Since then, she has won five of eight starts, with five of those starts being grade I.
"We know that guts is not a question with our filly, and it's hard to get a filly to be that consistent," Ellis said. "I don't think she gets enough credit for that."
With the Breeders' Cup only about three months away, who knows what new surprises Include Me Out has in store. There is one thing we do know for sure. If you're going to beat her, you're going to have to work for it.
Siegel's other pleasant surprise in last year's Breeders' Cup was the second-place finish, at 8-1 by her old warrior Rail Trip in the Dirt Mile (gr. I). The 8-year-old Jump Start gelding, who has earned more than $1.5 million in his career, finished fifth in the Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) in his 2013 debut June 29
"Rail Trip is doing fine," Siegel said. "He came out of that first race with a bruise on his frog that took a little time. But all is good now, and he looks fantastic."