Hollywood Park Race Report: Thrill Ride

Hollywood Park Race Report: Thrill Ride
Photo: Benoit Photos
Dress to Thrill (6) defeats Golden Apples in the Matriarch.
Published in the Dec. 7 issue of The Blood-Horse
It was billed as the showdown. With an Eclipse Award hanging in the balance, the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) pitted Banks Hill against Golden Apples, and the battle, many figured, would go a long way toward determining the top grass female in the land. It didn't.

Neither one took the spoils on Dec. 1, further muddling a division that at one point or another has been led by not only Banks Hill and Golden Apples but Astra and Starine, as well. Instead, the 22nd Matriarch went to Dress To Thrill, an Irish lass who took on the best the home team could muster and beat them on their own turf.

"This filly deserved what she got today," said her globe-trotting trainer, Dermot Weld. "The Breeders' Cup did not reflect her true ability. I wanted people to see what she was capable of."

More or less an afterthought in the eyes of many Matriarch spectators, the 7-1 Dress To Thrill at least had a right to be there. Though just three, the daughter of Danehill was a sensation in Ireland throughout much of the year. Weld thought enough of the filly, in fact, that he sent her from Europe for a crack at the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) in October. She wound up eighth, a race that in Weld's eyes was a pretense of her capabilities.

"The Breeders' Cup may have come just a little bit soon for her," the trainer said, referring to Dress To Thrill's handy win at Newmarket only three weeks prior to the World Thoroughbred Championships. "It was a very soft turf in the Breeders' Cup, too. This filly wants what she got today. She loves firm turf. And she's a very determined filly, as you saw."

The nine-furlong Matriarch started off innocently enough, but within seconds turned to instant bliss for Dress To Thrill's rider, Pat Smullen. Facing the prospects of a slow pace, both Banks Hill and Golden Apples immediately went after Affluent on the front end. Smullen, riding his very first race in California and seeing primary foes directly ahead, was flat-out shocked.

"I couldn't believe my luck, to be honest," he later said. "I mean, the little concern we had beforehand was where the pace was going to come from."

To Smullen, the sight was beautiful. Sitting aboard a filly with a tendency to get a bit rattled, the rider settled Dress To Thrill into a close fourth. From there, he simply tracked the big three for six furlongs, then let Dress To Thrill fly on the far turn. It was Golden Apples who put up the biggest fight. With Dress To Thrill on the loose to her outside, the Pivotal filly disposed of first Affluent and then Banks Hill. For Golden Apples, it was a typical die-hard effort. But it wasn't enough. Dress To Thrill caught Golden Apples late, inching forward to win by a head in 1:48.31. Magic Mission came up to edge Banks Hill for third 1 1/2 lengths back. Owned and bred by Moyglare Stud, Dress To Thrill is now five-for-six in 2002.

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

Those closest to Good Journey think he's a different breed. They say he oozes personality; that at times, he seems almost human.

"He's somethin' else. It's incredible," marveled his trainer, Wally Dollase. "I mean, he could make a good pony horse for somebody. He's a class act. When you're around horses like that, it's a thrill to see 'em win. He's quite a horse."

It was just over a decade ago that a gelding bearing the same attitude first took Dollase to the top. His name was Itsallgreektome, and in 1990, the Sovereign Dancer gelding parlayed a string of big wins into an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding grass horse. Good Journey may very well be on the same path after his latest megawatt performance in the $500,000 Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) on Nov. 30.

Just a year ago, the son of Nureyev captured his first Citation, bursting into the national limelight for the first time. Good Journey has since turned into the most reliable middle-distance grass horse in the nation, a warrior to the core and a runner who thrives on competition. It is this trait that saw him prevail this summer in both the Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs and Woodbine's Atto Mile (Can-IT). According to Dollase, it also may have meant the difference in his narrow loss in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT).

"We learned something about this horse in the Breeders' Cup," he said. "You want to have him close to horses. He loves to fight."

Facing the world's best milers, however, Good Journey took over much earlier than usual, consequently dropping his guard. When Domedriver and Rock of Gibraltar came screaming down the stretch, the 6-year-old had little time to react.

"As soon as he got to the lead, he slowed down his momentum," Dollase said. "The other horses were just coming with their momentum."

Though his reputation was in no need of repair, Good Journey redeemed himself with authority in the Citation. Tracking eastern shipper Kimberlite Pipe for most of the trip, Good Journey finally eased to the front leaving the far turn. There, jockey Pat Day took a measured glance back at the competition, careful to avoid Breeders' Cup redux. This time, there were no threats. Though the final margin was just 1 1/4 lengths, there hasn't been a more convincing 8 1/2 furlongs all year. Seinne beat out White Heart and Decarchy for second. The final time was 1:41.45. It might also have been Good Journey's final race.

"Hopefully we can sell him for a stallion--if we get the right price," said Dollase, who co-owns Good Journey with the horse's breeders, Flaxman Holdings, as well as a partnership that includes his wife, Cincy, Mike Jarvis, Gary Margolis, Ken Smole, James Mann, and Scott Slusinger. "He's six years old, you know. He's no spring chicken. He's done enough."

Good Journey's victory marked the fourth time in the last nine years that Dollase has bagged the Citation. Only Charlie Whittingham won as many.

Johar's Derby

A day after the Citation, Dollase sent out 14-1 outsider Mananan McLir and nearly stole the $500,000 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) as well. Mananan McLir, however, could not hold off The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Johar, who somehow managed to knock off a quality field despite a trip that was less than ideal.

"I thought he'd be laying fourth or fifth, middle of the pack. In fact, I told Alex (Solis), 'Don't give him too much to do,' " said Johar's relieved trainer, Richard Mandella. "I was cussin' like a sailor at the half-mile."

The troubles began just steps out of the gate in the nine-furlong race. Squashed between Inesperado and Century City at the break, Johar was protectively wrangled back by jockey Alex Solis, leaving the son of Gone West last as the nine-horse field emerged onto the course proper from the chute. From there, Johar and Solis were at the mercy of the pace, a languid tone set forth by longshots Music's Storm and Union Place.

They had covered a half in :49.74 before Rock Opera upped the ante, pushing the leaders into the far turn. Mananan McLir simply followed Rock Opera's lead, and by midstretch, the two Royal Academy progeny had taken over. Instantly, though, they were both tackled by Johar. Leaving the backstretch, Johar had commenced a run that circled the entire bunch and put him in front passing the sixteenth pole. He went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths, stopping the clock in 1:48.70. Mananan McLir outran Royal Gem for second.

"I thought with that easy half-mile, those horses might just keep going," Mandella said. "But he showed what a good horse he is. He dug down and just put it to 'em."

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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