For the second day in a row, the barn of the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel scored a grade I victory on the Hollywood Park turf. On Nov. 28, Ventura captured the $300,000 Matriarch in a stakes record time by 1 3/4 lengths (VIDEO).
Frankel won eight Matriarchs in the 12 previous renewals and his domination continued through his former assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio as the 3-5 pick Ventura rolled to victory in her final start. The 5-year-old Juddmonte Farms mare is to be retired for breeding next year. Juddmonte, thanks to Frankel's prowess, won its fourth Matriarch in the past six years and has six wins in the prestigious race overall.
In one of his last discussions before he died Nov. 16, Frankel recommended that Ascanio run Ventura back in the Matriarch after she finished second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. IT) over Santa Anita's synthetic track days earlier.
“It was Bobby’s last wish," said Garrett O'Rourke, manager of Juddmonte Farms in Lexington. "He said so the Friday before he died, he called me up and I got the feeling it was the goodbye phone call. And he told me that he was scared and what he was going to do, not take anymore of the transfusions. And he paused -- that chokes anyone up -- then he turned around and said, ‘Talk to Humberto, we’re still going with Ventura, right? Just tell him two easy half miles and she will be there.’ He knew he was going in days, and still, it was that important to him.
“Obviously they are all special. Over the years Bobby developed a few favorites. Most of them were fillies and she was definitely one of them. She can be a mean devil and he used to laugh at that because she was all personality and he was all personality, himself."
Winning her fourth grade I event, Ventura was clocked in a sizzling 1:33.58, the record for the Matriarch since it has been contested at the one-mile distance beginning in 2003. The time is .99 of a second off the track record established by Monterey Jazz on May 24.
"I wanted this one more -- for him," said Ascanio, referring to Frankel. "I wish she (Ventura) could stay one more year, but that’s the last call. And that’s why he wanted her in, he knew she was gonna win this one. They wanted to retire her a winner."
The Matriarch win followed the the $300,000 Citation Handicap (gr. IT) Nov. 27, won by Ascanio with the Frankel-trained Fluke.
Asked what the weekend had been like, Ascanio responded, "It’s like a dream. Everything is in memory of him.”
With her regular rider Garrett Gomez aboard again, the dark bay raced closer to the pace than usual, collaring pacesetter Tuscan Evening in the stretch and drawing off while under a brisk hand ride. Tuscan Evening held on for second by a half-length, with Diamondrella, a two-time grade I winner at one mile on the turf this year, finishing third.
Ventura won the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) over males in September prior to finishing second to the red-hot Informed Decision in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint when she had too much ground to make up in the stretch and came up 1 1/4 lengths short.
Though she's equally adept at turf and synthetic track racing, Ventura may have been a little better on grass, especially later in her career. The Chester House mare stands 6-6-1 in 14 grass races and 4-2-0 in seven synthetic track efforts, giving her a an overall career mark of 10-8-1 in 21 starts. The $180,000 winning share in the Matriarch boosted her bankroll to $2,580,530.
Facing five rivals, Ventura stalked in third through the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch. Tuscan Evening, a perfect three-for-three on the Hollywood turf, led the field comfortably through sensible quarter-mile fractions of :23.55, :47.65 and 1:11.07 with 87-1 outsider Taste's Sis tracking in second. Tuscan Evening, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, appeared to have plenty left rounding the sweeping final turn as Taste's Sis tired and Ventura, never more than about three lengths behind, closed in on the outside.
At the top of the stretch, Ventura, though, took aim at the leader and showed her fabulous turn of foot once again to take command just past mid-stretch. Gomez gave her one light tap of the whip and she went on from there without being asked for much more.
Gomez rode Ventura in all 13 of her North American starts, never finishing out of the money. She won seven, finished second five times, and third once.
"She's just been amazing," Gomez said of Ventura. "She's probably one of the best fillies I've ever ridden going a mile. Actually she IS the best filly I've ridden going a mile. She has the most explosive turn of foot I've ever seen. I don't want to see her go. I wish she could stick around another year. I actually think she's better now than she was as a 4-year-old. In a lot of her other races she tried to pull herself up, but today when I asked her to go, she went and accelerated and ran away from them.
"But she's got another career in front of her now and hopefully she'll send some of her babies my way."
Tuscan Evening held off Diamondrella, who lacked her big late kick after cutting the corner effectively for Alex Solis. Rutherienne ran evenly for fourth, four lengths behind the show horse. The New Zealand filly Puttanesca and Taste's Sis trailed.
Ventura, out of the Be My Guest mare Estala, paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. Tuscan Evening returned $2.80 and $2.20. The exacta was worth $6.60. The show price on Diamondrella was $2.40.
April Pride scratched.