The 5-year-old mare Royal Highness, a slight 9-5 choice, used a quick turn of foot to jump into contention on the final turn and gain the lead in upper stretch. After battling to the eighth pole, the daughter of Monsun left Safari Queen behind in the final stages while completing the 1 3/8-mile distance in 2:12 3/5 on a firm turf. Barancella finished five lengths behind in third.
Christophe Clement trains Royal Highness for owner Monceaux Stable. Royal Highness previously competed in France, where she was a group II winner and group I-placed on three occasions. She arrived in the United States last fall, finishing third behind English Channel in the Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in October. In the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct Nov. 4, she closed stoutly but came up a half-length behind Safari Queen as the 7-10 favorite.
Bend a Little, also trained by Clement, broke down and was vanned off after finishing seventh. Clement said the Cynthia Knight homebred Bend a Little was due to be bred on Tuesday.
Ridden by Edgar Prado, Royal Highness carried high weight of 120 pounds, three more than Safari Queen, piloted by John Velazquez. The Todd Pletcher-trained runner-up was coming off a 5 1/4-length win with Velazquez aboard in the La Prevoyante (gr. IIT), which was taken off the turf at Calder Dec. 16 and contested on a sloppy main track.
Royal Highness rallied after racing slightly off the pace, which was set by Baleriana (:23 3/5, :48 1/5 and 1:13 2/5) as Safari Queen stalked in third on the outside. It quickly became a two-horse race in upper stretch as Barancella and Javier Castellano closed mildly to take third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Safari Queen.
“When I turned my filly loose, I felt very confident because I could feel she had so much left," Prado said. "When we went on with (Safari Queen), I knew she had it.”
The winner improved her record to 3-5-2 in 12 starts with earnings of $491,581. She paid $5.60, $3, and $2.20.
Safari Queen returned $3.20 and $2.40 and Barancella was $2.60 to show.
It was 5 1/4 lengths back to Brazilian-bred Moon Berry in fourth, followed by Jinni, Marchonin, Bend a Little, Cursora, and Baleriana.