Carriage Trailcomes into the Oct. 24 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita off a dazzling performance in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I). The 5-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway rolled to a 7 3/4–length victory in that race while setting a track record for 1 1/8 miles of 1:46.77 over Keeneland’s Polytrack.
“She really exploded,” said Carriage Trail’s Hall-of-Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey. “I saw a very good performance coming, but obviously I didn’t think she would crush the field and break the track record and all that kind of stuff.”
It was New York-based Carriage Trail’s first grade I win, and she’ll take another step up in competition when she faces undefeated Zenyatta, the Ladies Classic’s heavy favorite.
“Carriage Trail is doing very well, but she’s got to run against a monster, so we’ll see,” McGaughey said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for that monster, but she’s been running against a lot of the same horses out here. Sometimes their competition in California isn’t as varied as ours is back East.”
Carriage Trail has won six times in her 15-race career. Three of those victories were over Keeneland’s Polytrack. Two were on grass, and one was on dirt.
“She’s OK on dirt, but I think she’s basically a grass horse that likes synthetics,” McGaughey said. “She’s by Giant’s Causeway out of a Seeking the Gold mare, and a lot of the Seeking the Gold mares are getting turf horses for some reason even though he never raced on it.”
Santa Anita has a synthetic Pro-Ride surface.
"I just saw it (Pro-Ride) Tuesday (Oct. 21) for the first time, and, to me, there’s not that much difference (from Polytrack)," McGaughey said. "The (exercise) rider tells me it (Pro-Ride) might just a tad bit firmer. It stays together a little bit more than the Polytrack."
Bred and raced by Stuart S. Janney III and the Phipps Stable, Carriage Trail had never won an added-money event before this season. But she had shown promise in top company, finishing third in the 2007 Humana Distaff Stakes (gr. I).
After racing just twice last year, Carriage Trail has rebounded to put together her longest and most fruitful campaign in what will be her last season of competition, according to McGaughey. Her seven efforts in 2008, in addition to her Spinster (gr. I) win, have included a one-length victory in the Doubledogdare Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, a nose victory over Trouble Maker in the De La Rose Stakes on grass at Saratoga, and a second-place finish to champion Wait a While in the Ballston Spa Handicap (gr. IIT), also at Saratoga.
“She just had some little things that were sort of nagging her, and she’s ended up having a good year this year once she got all that behind her,” McGaughey said. “She was kind of funny behind and then we had to stop on her and I don’t remember what it was. It wasn’t anything significant, but it just wasn’t something that we could train through.
“She’s been fun,” the trainer continued. “Maybe there’s a little frustration in that I didn’t get more starts out of her, but I always thought she had the ability. The Spinster was kind of, so far, the icing on the cake for the whole thing.”
And if Carriage Trail can slay a “monster,” McGaughey just might get his fourth victory in the race that used to be known as the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). His three winners are the Ogden Phipps' homebred Personal Ensign (1988), the Ogden Mills Phipps' homebred Inside Information (1995), and the Phipps Stable homebred Pleasant Home (2005).