The champion filly Smuggler made no impact in her first start in nine months when Magnolia Jackson dug in to defeat Grecian Lover by a neck in the $155,400 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Saturday.
Ridden by Norberto Arroyo Jr. for trainer Gary Contessa and owner Ted Taylor, the New York-bred Magnolia Jackson challenged the pacesetter Trickle of Gold from the start of the seven-furlong event for fillies and mares. The daughter of Cape Canaveral
took over the lead while racing between horses in mid-stretch and prevailed in a long drive to the wire over Grecian Lover and Mike Smith. The victory was her first in a graded stakes event and at the seven-eighths distance.
"What a gritty filly she is," said Contessa, who was in Florida on Saturday. "Maybe now she'll get a little respect. She's always been a great filly in my eyes. I loved how she won stretching out to seven furlongs today. I think this could be a nice springboard to a mile race. I'm really tickled by her effort."
Annika Lass, who encountered traffic trouble as she attempted to challenge the first two when stuck on the inside, finished one length behind in third, a neck in front of Trickle of Gold. The final time was 1:23 4/5 on a fast, sealed track.
Trickle of Gold set a solid pace of :23 2/5 and :46 3/5 while pressed by Magnolia Jackson and Grecian Lover.
"The question was whether she could go seven-eighths; she obviously proved she could," said Arroyo. "She got game and she's a fighter. She was getting late in deep stretch, but when (Grecian Lover) got up outside of her, she gave me another surge. She's a fun horse to ride."
Phipps Stable's Smuggler, the 2006 Eclipse winner for 3-year-old fillies after a pair of grade I wins at Belmont Park, trailed the five-horse field throughout after stumbling at the start as the 11-10 choice. With Edgar Prado aboard, she attempted to launch a bid on the outside as they reached the stretch but flattened out, finishing more than four lengths behind the winner.
Because of several illnesses, Smuggler had not raced since winning the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks (both gr. I) last summer for trainer Shug McGaughey.
"It was good to get her back going," said McGaughey. "The horses in front of her were kind of walking. Our plan was to let her drop out of it and finish. She flattened out a little bit more than I thought she would. I wish they wouldn't have sealed the track, but that's not my call. Hopefully, this race gets her ready for Belmont."
Added Prado, "This is going to be a nice step forward for her. You could see in the post parade that she was eager to go. I wish there had been a little more pace in the race, but I cannot change her style. She gave me a long run and her breathing was fine and she hit the ground beautifully."
Magnolia Jackson, who won back-to-back stakes at six furlongs earlier this year on the Aqueduct inner track, was coming off a second-place finish in the six-furlong Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) March 25 when she lost by a neck to Smokey Glacken at Aqueduct. She now counts seven wins among her 11 lifetime starts and earnings of $335,384.
The third choice of bettors, Magnolia Jackson paid $11.60, $4.70 and $3.60. Grecian Lover returned $7.20 and $5.60. Annika Lass, ridden by Channing Hill, was $3.70 to show.