Never Retreat, beaten as the favorite when second to Bay to Bay in last month's Nassau Stakes (Can-IIT), turned the tables on her rival at Woodbine in the $313,395 Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-IIT) July 10 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, Never Retreat repelled challenges from defending Dance Smartly champion Mekong Melody and Bay to Bay in the homestretch to post a 1 1/4-length victory. She completed the one-turn grass test for 10 older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.48 over firm going.
Bay to Bay, ridden by Luis Contreras, edged Irish-bred Mekong Melody and John Velazquez by a half-length for second.
Chris Block trains the winning 6-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike —Lisieux, by Steady Growth, for Team Block. Gerry O'Meara and Stanley Inman bred the dark bay/brown mare.
This was the third graded stakes win of the year for Never Retreat. She captured the one-mile Honey Fox Stakes (gr. IIIT) over firm turf at Gulfstream Park and Keeneland's 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. IIT) on yielding ground this spring. Bridgmohan was aboard for Never Retreat's Wiley win, which was followed by a wide sixth-place finish in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs May 7.
David Block, part of the Team Block ownership group, was on hand at Woodbine to witness the filly's performance.
"The biggest asset for this filly is that she's a class act," said Block. "Nothing bothers her, she can do anything. In the final analysis, she never retreats."
Bay to Bay, sent off as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in the Dance Smartly, defeated Never Retreat by two lengths in the one-mile Nassau on a yielding course June 4.
Never Retreat, the 4-1 second choice, was joined by Mekong Melody and No Explaining in tracking the pacesetting 54-1 shot War Tigress through easy fractions of :24.87, :48.37, and 1:11.34. Never Retreat grabbed a narrow advantage over Mekong Melody in upper stretch as War Tigress gave way.
Those two dueled down the lane as Bay to Bay, racing mid-pack between horses, emerged on the outside to threaten under encouragement from Contreras. As Bay to Bay closed in, Bridgmohan asked Never Retreat for a bit more and the mare gave a ready response past mid-stretch to scoot away from both challengers. She finished up under a hand ride.
"She's a filly that's so relaxed sitting off of horses and when she made the lead she was looking around for competition," said Bridgmohan. "I switched sticks left-handed and she gave me what I needed."
Never Retreat extended her earnings to $867,255 while improving her career record to 9-7-6 in 28 races. The victory was her first in three tries on the Woodbine lawn. Never Retreat has finished in the money in nine of her past 10 starts.
"She's such an honest filly and she broke sharply and wanted to put herself in the game. She's an old pro," said Bridgmohan.
She carried 122 pounds and paid $10.10, $4.40, and $3.30. Robert Smithen's Bay to Bay, from the Brian Lynch barn, returned $4.30 and $3.40. The exacta on the two favorites was worth $40.30. Mekong Melody, rebounding from an eighth-place finish in the Nassau in her only prior start this year for trainer Roger Attfield, paid $4.10 to show and was part of a $226.30 trifecta.
Attfield also saddled Irish-bred Miss Keller, last year's Canadian female turf champion, who rallied from last to nose Stars to Shine for fourth, two lengths behind her stablemate. Then came Forest Uproar, Valli With a Vow, No Explaining, Jenny's So Great, and War Tigress.