For several years, jockey Jorge Chavez was the leading jockey in New York. Chavez now calls the West Coast home, but Saturday he returned to Aqueduct and acted like he never left.
Drawing on his years of experience on the Big A’s inner dirt track, Chavez guided California invader Maryfield to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $158,000 Distaff Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II).
As Candy Box and My Day Vow slugged it out through early fractions of :22.33; :44.48; and :56.87, they were joined late in the lane by Oprah Winney. Outrun early, Chavez had saved ground with his mount but had to steady on the turn. He finally got clear in the lane after angling outward and then bore down in the drive to come away with the win in 1:09.73.
“There was a lot of speed in this race,” said Chavez, who won the Distaff back in 1990 aboard Channel Three. “I figured we would break and be wherever she wanted to be. When the other horses came out and were going so fast, I just waited. She drifted out just a little bit on the turn and I got into a little bit of trouble on the turn. The other horses went a little too quick out of the gate, and they stopped a little.
“I’m just thankful that Doug O’Neill gave me the opportunity to ride the horse. I rode here so many years, to come back is unbelievable the way it made me feel. For all the fans cheering for me, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
O’Neill, who was in California on Saturday, also got a wonderful feeling from the Distaff Breeders’ Cup. In scoring her seventh win in 24 career starts and boosting her career earnings to $550,423 with Saturday's winning purse of $95,100, Maryfield impressed her trainer with her ability to rate and to finish strongly, not to mention being able to overcome a bit of adversity.
“For some reason, she hasn’t been breaking well in her last three or four races,” O’Neill said of the 6-year-old, Canadian-bred daughter of Elusive Quality . “Jorge breezed her a couple of weeks ago and we put her in a three or-four-horse team. She out-broke everybody and worked like a beast. For some reason, today she broke a step slow.
“Jorge has been a big-money rider. He’s won a lot of races at Aqueduct and he made a great call not to rush her. He just let those other fillies do the hard work, and he came with a strong run. The way she ran today, she has opened up a whole new option. Right now, we’ll just let this soak in and figure out where we are, time-wise.”
Mark Gorman, Nick J. Mestrandrea and Jim Perry own Maryfield, who is out of the Desert Wine mare Sly Maid.
Sent off as the fourth choice in the field of seven, Maryfield paid a generous $15.20, $8.30 and $5.30.
Candy Box, who had acted up at the starting gate, was game to hold the place by three-quarters of a length place under Mike Luzzi, returning $15 and $7. Oprah Winney, ridden by Mike Smith, was $3.10 to show as the second choice.
Favored Victorina (8-5) was a non-threatening fourth after an awkward break. Magnolia Jackson, May Day Vow and Hello Lucky completed the order of finish.