Godolphin Racing's Imperial Gesture set her own pace, then had more than enough to hold off the stalking Take Charge Lady to score a 2 1/2-length victory in the $250,000 Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park Saturday.
Ridden by Jose Santos and trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Langfuhr scored her first Grade I victory in a stakes record-equaling time of 1:47 for the 1 1/8-mile distance.
With Jose Santos up, Imperial Gesture broke alertly with second choice Take Charge Lady and longshot Lost at Sea, but cruised to the lead and settled to set a legitimate pace of :23; :46 3/5; 1:10 2/5 and 1:34 3/5.
The Langfuhr filly only seemed to get stronger, however, and was able to repel Take Charge Lady who drew even at the head of the lane but could never get by. Imperial Gesture enjoyed a four-pound break in the weights from Take Charge Lady, who carried the top weight assignment of 121 pounds.
"Jose (Santos) was double-handed all the way around there," said Tom Albertrani, assistant to winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who trains Imperial Gesture for Godolphin Stable. "I saw he had a pretty good hold of her, and she went the half in :46 3/5. She never looked like she was stopping. She just extended herself. She's a very good filly. She's always been highly regarded."
Take Charge Lady, making her first start since winning the Dogwood (gr. III) at Churchill Downs on May 25, ran strong enough to add to trainer Ken McPeek's growing reputation as a master with layoff horses. McPeek nearly pulled off the upset of Medaglia d'Oro in the Travers at Saratoga last month with repent, who was also coming in off a layoff.
"It was a very good race," McPeek said of the Gazelle and Take Charge Lady. "I was very pleased with her. I want to see her win, but I didn't want to see her best race today. I haven't put the screws to her at all. We've just kind of tinkered with her up to now. I want to see her improve off this race. We'll probably go in the Spinster (gr. I) next.
"The plan all along was to get a nice race into her here and then go in the Spinster. I don't think she's ever lost at Keeneland."
The nine-furlong Spinster will be held at Keeneland on October 6.
Favored Bella Bellucci ran third after happing at the break.
"John (Velazquez) said her head was down and she missed the break," said trainer Neil Drysdale. "She did recover and got a nice position, but she was probably used a little bit to get her that position. John gave her a breather, but when they kicked in, she flattened in the stretch."
Lost At Sea, Nonsuch Bay, Spring Meadow and Jaramar Rain trailed.
The third choice in the wagering, Imperial Gesture won for the fifth time in nine career outings. She increased her bankroll to more than $640,000 with the $150,000 first prize.
Imperial Gesture paid $8.30, $4.10 and $2.40. Take Charge Lady returned $3.50 and $2.20. Bella Bellucci paid $2.10. The $2 exacta was $23.00.