Safari Queen Sails to Orchid Handicap Win

Trainer Todd Pletcher was half a world away in Dubai when the Gulfstream stakes races began Saturday afternoon, but his powerful stable came out strong with heavily favored Safari Queen and Almonsoon posting a one-two finish in the $150,000 Orchid Handicap (gr. IIIT), the first of five stakes on the Florida Derby Day program.

Jockey Chris DeCarlo had Safari Queen rating comfortably in third down the backstretch of the 1 1/2-mile turf event for older fillies and mares, swinging out to take the lead at the top of the stretch. She was in command at the furlong pole and went on to score by 1 1/2 lengths as the 6-to-5 choice in the field of seven. Almonsoon, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, finished one length ahead of La Dolce Vita and Javier Castellano in third.

Safari Queen carried top weight of 117 pounds.

An Argentine-bred daughter of Lode, Arindel Farm’s 5-year-old mare Safari Queen won grade II stakes over 12 furlongs at Aqueduct and Calder late last year and was coming off a runner-up effort in the 11-furlong The Very One Handicap (gr. IIIT) over the Gulfstream course on Feb. 25. Her winning time in the Orchid was 2:25:17 over ‘firm’ going. It was her first victory in three starts on the Gulfstream sod to go with two seconds.

The triumph, her eighth in 14 starts, was worth $90,000, pushing her earnings to $490,489.

“Todd had her well prepared for this race, said Pletcher's assistant, Anthony Sciametta Jr. "She was training awfully good going into it. You can see (the improvement) in her last three races. We were expecting a big effort and we got it.”

She paid $4.40, $2.60 and $2.20.  Almonsoon, making her stakes debut for Pletcher, returned $3.40 and $2.60. La Dolce Vita, who rallied from last in the final half-mile, was $3 to show.

“When they learn how to relax you can bide your time," DeCarlo said. "She broke sharp and I was able to sit behind the leaders. I angled out at the top of the stretch, and I knew she was ready to take off when I asked her to.”

Fractions for the marathon distance were 23:95, 48:41, 1:13:29 for the first half of the race. The mile was accomplished in 1:37:89 and 10 furlongs in 2:02:13.

Second choice Time On, a group II winner in France making her first U.S. start for Christophe Clement, finished fourth, less than three lengths behind the winner. Bea Plus, Archstone and Moon Berry completed the order.

(Chart, Equibase)

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