Storm Flag Flying returned to her championship form Saturday at Belmont Park, winning the $200,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) by a half-length as the even-money favorite.
The 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat
has had her problems since winning the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and the divisional championship, winning only once in four starts.
She appeared to be on her way to another loss before rallying in deep stretch to beat Passing Shot and Roar Emotion in the final strides.
Cherokee Lite and Roar Emotion set the stage by battling on the opening splits of :23 4; :46 3/5,while Storm Flag Flying kept within striking distance. As Cherokee Lite gave way, Passing Shot took the lead from the inside and seemed destined for the winners' circle.
Storm Flag Flyingwas kept to the task by jockey John Velazquez. and she found enoug to get the job done, hitting the wire in 1:36. Passing Shot, ridden by Jose Santos, was a nose better than Roar Emotion and Mike Luzzi.
Now 3-for-4 at Belmont Park, Storm Flag Flying improved her overall record to six wins from nine career starts.
"It looked like she had them, and then it looked like she didn't." said trainer Shug McGaughey of his fourth Shuvee winner. "I don't know why she is running a little bit `spotty.' She came around the turn, and I thought it was hers to win. I'm glad to get this kind of a win. We can work from this."
Storm Flag Flying is likely to run for her owner Ogden Mills Phipps in a race named for his father, $300,000 Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at 1 1/16 mile and a sixteenth at Belmont Park on June 15.
"I'm sure they would want to run her here in the Ogden Phipps Handicap," McGaughey said. "We'll see how she comes out of this and go from there."
Velazquez felt that the sometimes-temperamental filly didn't exactly agree with his strategy.
"The second time I hit her, she really ducked in," Velazquez said. "I thought I was going to blow the race for being stupid. She didn't like when I hit her right-handed. Once I got her outside, she went on again. Before she ducked in, at the eighth-pole, I thought I would get there because she was coming and coming. She's a champion and it's good to see her back in the winners' circle."
Final Round, Elegant Mercedes and Cherokee Lite were far behind.
The winner earned $120,000 and paid $4, 43 and $2.40. Passing Shot returned $4.20 and $2.80. Roar Emotion was $2.60 to show. The exacta was worth $16.80.