The Stronach Stables' Canadian homebred got the pace she needed to set up her big late charge for Javier Castellano in the seven-furlong test, and she responded in upper stretch to take command en route to a 5 1/2-length victory in an excellent time of 1:22.57. She defeated five foes.
Sugar Swirl has now won four stakes races in a row, including the last three at Gulfstream after she was transferred to Lynch from trainer Bobby Frankel for the winter campaign. The 5-year-old daughter of Touch Gold won Gulfstream's First Lady Handicap (gr. III) on a sloppy track Jan. 13 by 2 1/2 lengths, then came back with an 8 3/4-length triumph in the Hurricane Bertie Handicap (gr. III) one month later. Castellano was aboard for all three of Sugar Swirl's recent graded wins.
The chestnut mare now has a record of four wins in five starts at the seven-furlong distance and has also won four of five at Gulfstream.
Sugar Swirl had to wait an extra week for the Shirley Jones after heavy rain washed out part of the South Florida card March 22. She recorded a :47 3/5 four-furlong drill at Palm Meadows March 24 and was sitting on go for Castellano coming into the race.
“If anything, she came into this one better than the other two, and the extra week didn’t hurt," Lynch said. "I can’t say what’s next until I talk to the Stronachs. There was some thought about going on to the Humana Distaff (gr. I at Churchill Downs May 3), but I don’t know if that’s still in the cards.
"She’ll need a little break at some point, but the main objective for her will be the new Breeders’ Cup sprint for fillies and mares. This distance (seven furlongs) is probably her best. I don’t know whether she’ll go back to Bobby (Frankel) now. I’m just delighted to have had her for these races this winter.”
Carrying high weight of 124 pounds, Sugar Swirl was under a snug hold while one off the rail coming out of the chute. She raced third or fourth between rivals as Shaggy Mane jumped to the lead and showed the way for Cornelio Velasquez. Shaggy Mane stepped a lively pace of :22.28 and :44.81 as Featherbed pressed from the outside.
Sugar Swirl was in a good spot when Featherbed gradually wrestled the lead away rounding the turn and the favorite followed Baroness Thatcher while four paths wide into the stretch. She soon took control and registered a thoroughly convincing win when asked for her drive.
"She was on her toes today," Castellano said. "She broke well and settled in behind the leaders. The three horses went to the lead and they looked like they wanted to kill each other. I had a lot of horse turning for home, so I swung out alongside of them to get out of their way because they went so fast early that sooner or later I knew they would come back to me. I rode her with a lot of patience and a lot of confidence.”
Zayat Stables' Baroness Thatcher, with John Velazquez aboard, was clearly second best by 2 3/4 lengths in her second start following a four-month layoff for new trainer Bill Mott. Shaggy Mane, on a six-race skid since early 2007, settled for third in her first start for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. Featherbed, Dixie Dreamer and the comebacking Moon Catcher completed the order.
Sugar Swirl, who earned $90,000 for her ninth win in 19 lifetime starts, boosted her bankroll to $681,124.
Sent off at odds of 7-10, she paid $3.40, $2.20 and $2.10. Baroness Thatcher, previously trained by the suspended Patrick Biancone, returned $3.40 and $2.40. Shaggy Mane was $2.60 to show.