As Marylebone and Lokoya battled head-and-head in the stretch, the only thing that was certain in Sunday's $200,000 Matron (gr. I) for 2-year-old fillies at Belmont Park was that trainer Todd Pletcher was going to the winner's circle.
Michael Tabor's Marylebone, ridden by Edgar Prado, got the nod by a nose after a great stretch duel. She won her second race without a loss, jumping all the way from her debut maiden win to take the one-mile Matron in 1:38 on a fast track. The victory came at the expense of a game Lokoya, who battled to the wire after setting a strong pace. But Pletcher trains both of them. The last quarter-mile, while making for a superb finish, was run in :27 1/5.
"I hate those situations," Pletcher said. "Unfortunately, someone's got to go home unhappy. The fillies were separated by an inch. Unfortunately, it couldn't have been a dead-heat."
Marylebone was rated behind the pacesetting Lokoya in fifth down the backside as the leader, under pressure from Eye Dazzler and Sisti's Pride, recorded fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 1/5. Marlebone made a four-wide move on the turn and engaged Lokoya, who pulled away from his challengers, on the outside for the stretch run after completing six furlongs in 1:10 3/5.
"I really had to motivate her once we were outside," Prado said of the winner. "She's still got room for improvement."
Eye Dazzler held on for third, 5 3/4 lengths behind the leaders, beating out race favorite Feline Story, a slight 2-1 pick over Lokoya, who came from behind on the turn but tired in the stretch.
"She was moving with the winner, then she didn't have it, said Stanley Hough, trainer of Feline Story. "I think she's better suited to sprinting."
Marylebone won her debut July 31 at Saratoga, racing greenly and getting up for the victory only after making a courageous move through a narrow opening on the rail. Sunday's victory was worth $120,000 to Tabor, whose Coolmore partnership captured the Dunnes Stores National Stakes (Ire-I) for 2-year-olds with One Cool Cat Sunday at The Curragh.
"I thought both fillies ran exceptionally good races," Pletcher said. "Lokoya was under pressure the whole way and Marylebone was the beneficiary of a good trip. Both are fillies that I think will continue to improve as they go on. You've to give a lot of credit to Marylebone to step up off one five furlong race, it was a pretty big effort."
Pletcher said his options are open for both fillies, with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) Oct. 25 at Santa Anita under consideration.
Both could also run in the $500,000 Frizette (gr. 1) and the $500,000 Champagne (gr. 1) at Belmont on Oct. 4.
Marylebone, a grey/roan filly by Unbridled's Song, purchased for $725,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2002, was bred in Kentucky.
The winner paid $16.50, $7.50 and $4.30. Lokoya, who was ridden by John Velazquez, returned $4 and $3.20. Eye Dazzler, who was ridden by David Flores subbing for Eibar Coa, was a $4.20 show price. The $2 exacta was worth $64.
"She had a lot of pressure," Velaszquez said. "At the quarter pole I didn't know if I had any horse left to fight. She dug in."
Coa was injured during the fifth race in a spill aboard One Last Chance, the betting favorite who broke down. Coa was reportedly taken to the hospital complaining of a knee injury while the horse was humanely euthanized.