Even-money favorite Honey Ryder soared past Noble Stella near the furlong pole and drove to a powerful victory in the $150,000 Orchid Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares on the Gulfstream Park turf Saturday.
Making her second start since last October, Glencrest Farm's grade I winner Honey Ryder was ready to go as she successfully defended her Orchid win of last year in impressive style. The 5-year-old gray/roan Lasting Approval mare pulled her way to the leaders on the final turn for jockey John Velazquez, who measured their rivals while charging three wide as they straightened for the stretch run. After pulling away from the German-bred Noble Stella, she finished up well to complete the 1 1/2-mile event in a course record 2:23.7 on firm going, winning by four lengths.
"The race set up just the way I wanted," Velazquez said. "I was able to sit behind horses the way I wanted, and then at the half-mile pole, I moved on her, and it was all her from there."
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher and Velazquez teamed to win their fourth race on the Gulfstream program Saturday.
"I think this is probably the best race she's ever run, which is saying a lot because she's been such a very good, consistent mare," Pletcher said. "It seems like the older she gets, and more mature she gets, she seems to be able to rate better and better. And that was the key to delivering this performance today."
Olaya, under Edgar Prado, rallied belatedly for second, two lengths in front of Noble Stella, ridden by Eddie Castro. Dyamite Lass, upset winner of the Very One Handicap (gr. IIIT) over the course March 4, finished fourth.
Argentine-bred Potra Clasica wrestled the early lead from Pretty Jane, who conceded the front after a sharp break and stalked the leader through fractions of :23 4/5, :48, 1:11 3/5 and 1:35 4/5. The pacesetter came under heavy pressure from Noble Stalla and Honey Ryder hitting the home stretch, and Noble Stella led briefly in the stretch before giving way to the winner.
Honey Ryder, who paid $4, $2.60, and $2.20, wrapped up a tremendous 2005 campaign (5-for-7, $910,980) by winning the E.P. Taylor (Can-I) on a yielding Woodbine lawn Oct. 23. She returned to action a month ago at Gulfstream by finishing third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Wend, in the 1 1/16-mile Honey Fox Handicap (gr. IIIT).
Her ninth win in 22 lifetime starts pushes her earnings to $1,125,810.
The French import Olaya, a grade II winner last season in her first start in the U.S. for trainer Graham Motion, returned $3.60 and $2.80. Noble Stella recorded her third consecutive third-place finish in a graded stakes in Florida, paying $3.80 to show.
Asti finished fifth, three lengths behind Dynamite Lass. Then came Potra Clasica and Kate Winslet. Pretty Jane was pulled up in the stretch.