Favored Porte Bonheur showed needed improvement in her second start of the year when she wore down Spritely in the final strides to post a nose victory in the $150,000 First Flight Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Belmont Park June 28.
Racing at the seven-furlong distance for the first time in her career, the 4-year-old daughter of Hennessy saved ground under jockey Ramon Dominguez while stalking the pacesetting Carolyn's Cat and Sunday Geisha. Porte Bonheur rallied four wide in the lane as Spritely took a clear lead in the final furlong and she gradually edged in front as they closed in on the wire. Turn Away finished willingly on the far outside and was just a half-length behind in third. The final time was 1:22.45 on a fast track.
In her first start of the year for trainer David Duggan, Porte Bonheur stalked Carolyn's Cat in the six-furlong Vagrancy Handicap (gr. II) May 24, but was unable to make an impact late and finished 3 1/4 lengths behind the pacesetter.
Carolyn's Cat, the narrow second choice in the field of six older fillies and mares, had more to contend with in the First Flight. Though she got her customary lead after breaking sharply from the rail, she was tested for the first half-mile by Sunday Geisha while carving fractions of :22.74 and :45.13. Spritely, never far away in third for John Velazquez, launched her bid leaving the quarter pole and surged to the front mid-stretch as the front-runners gave way.
Spritely proved tough to catch as Porte Bonheur continued to close in under steady urging from Dominguez. Turn Away circled six wide for Javier Castellano leaving the turn and rallied steadily while coming up short.
Iron Butterfly, Sunday Geisha, and Carolyn's Cat completed the order.
“She has come a long way since last year," Dominguez said. "Now, she is a lot more focused. She’s always been very professional in her races, but she was her own worst enemy as she’d get worked up beforehand. David and his barn have done an outstanding job with her.”
Owned by Johanna Murphy-Leopoldsberger, Porte Bonheur won for the sixth time in 11 starts and increased her earnings to $413,012 with winning purse of $90,000. All of Porte Bonheur's previous wins came at six furlongs, including the Victory Ride (gr. III) at Saratoga last summer and Woodbine's Ontario Fashion in November.
"She’s a bit temperamental – she’s got the redhead personality," said Duggan, who credited Dominguez with a sharp ride. "She ran well in her first race back this year. This was a legitimate test for her, to see if she could get the seven furlongs. If she didn’t get the seven-eighths, we’d have to regroup."
Duggan said the Aug. 29 Ballerina (gr. I) at seven furlongs at Saratoga is the main goal for Porte Bonheur.
Gainsborough Farm bred the winning chestnut filly in Kentucky. She is out of Sous Entendu, by Shadeed.
Porte Bonheur carried 116 pounds and paid $6, $3.40, and $2.40, topping a $2 exacta worth $30.40. Spritely, coming off back-to-back wins for trainer Todd Pletcher, returned $4.80 and $3.10. Juddmonte Farms' Turn Away was $2.90 to show.