Trainer Jim Cassidy thought he might be forced to retire Evening Jewel, questioning his grade I-winning filly's will to continue racing following a lackluster effort earlier in the month. But her thrilling come-from-behind victory in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff Jan. 29 before 26,694 at Santa Anita seems to have put those considerations aside (VIDEO).
In the winner's circle after Evening Jewel's half-length victory, a tearful Marilyn Braley, who owns California-bred daughter of Northern Afleet on behalf of her late husband Tom, said she wants the 4-year-old Evening Jewel to continue campaigning this year rather than be retired to the breeding shed.
Cassidy added, "I had a lot of questions today. I wasn’t sure she had her head in it. Personally, I wouldn’t want to cheapen her in any way and keep running her if she’d had enough; but after this performance today, you got to keep running.”
Evening Jewel ran fifth in the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Santa Anita's hillside turf course last time and failed to show her usual late kick. It was her third consecutive defeat. But the return to the main track and 1 1/16-mile distance that she has proved many times she likes was to her benefit.
Bouncing back in the Millions Distaff, the 2-1 favorite raced farther back than usual in seventh along the inside into the far turn, moving up for jockey Victor Espinoza leaving the bend. Espinoza swung her to the outside in upper stretch and Evening Jewel charged home from mid-pack under urging. She swept past Amazing and the tiring pacesetter Briecat to grab the lead in deep stretch, coming home in a time of 1:42.25 over a fast track.
"I knew she was going to run big today,"Espinoza said. "I had a tremendous trip. There was plenty of speed in the race and she settled down nice and we saved ground around the first turn. There were quite a few horses in front of me down the backside, but I decided to just stay inside and try to get lucky.
"Midway around the turn, the horses in front of me got tired and drifted off the rail and I was able to cut the corner there at the quarter pole. She’s got a tremendous turn of foot and she finished great.”
Amazing, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, nosed the late-closing Ultra Blend, with Joel Rosario aboard, for second. Lady Railrider finished fourth, followed by Briecat, who led Amazing through quick quarter-mile fractions of :23.30, :47.50, and 1:11.47 before giving way reluctantly inside the eighth pole. Then came Warren's Blossom, All Due Respect, Antares World, and Camille C.
The Distaff victory, which concluded this year's Sunshine Millions, was the second of the day in the series for the sire Northern Afleet. His 5-year-old gelding Amazombie won the Sprint two races earlier. It also gave Cal-breds, with three victories--all at Santa Anita --a split of the six races with Florida in the ninth annual competition.
Evening Jewel was one of the top 3-year-olds in the nation last year. She captured the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) on Keeneland's Polytrack and the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT), Honeymoon (gr. II), and San Clemente (gr. IIT) handicaps on grass, and missed by a nose to division champion Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) on the Churchill Downs dirt.
Following a third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), also at Churchill, she concluded the 2010 campaign with a 4-3-2 mark in nine races with earnings of $915,343.
Evening Jewel banked $165,000 for her Sunshine Millions win, her seventh lifetime triumph in 16 races, which increased her earnings to $1,182,943.
Larry and Betty Mabee bred the hard-knocking chestnut filly who sold for $8,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2008. She is out of Jewel of the Night, by Giant's Causeway .
Evening Jewel, packing 120 pounds, paid $6.40, $4.20, and $3. Myron Miller's Florida invader Amazing, from the Marty Wolfson barn, returned $9.40 and $5.40 and rounded out a $62 exacta. Ultra Blend, a Cal-bred trained by Art Sherman, was $3 to show.