In what could be the most visually impressive race of the weekend, Grace Hall left her foes in the dust while taking the $400,000 Delaware Oaks (gr. II) by 3 3/4 lengths July 14 at Delaware Park (VIDEO).
The daughter of Empire Maker's definitive score leads her next to the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 18.
"She finished up full run and it looks like the added distance will not be a problem," trainer Anthony Dutrow said.
Sent off as the 2-5 favorite in a group of five 3-year-old fillies, Grace Hall settled well in fourth for jockey Javier Castellano after getting off a tick slow in the 1 1/16-mile test. Wicked Mizz took the field through a quarter in :23.60 and a half in :47.50, pressured by Amie's Dini, who engaged for the lead leaving the turn after three-quarters in 1:12.30. Aubby K also prompted the pace while racing three wide but faded in the drive.
Swinging four wide off the turn, Grace Hall absolutely inhaled the field after a mile in 1:36.80 and was 2 1/2 lengths ahead at mid-stretch. She increased her advantage with authoritative strides, powering home under Castellano’s confident hand ride.
"She is a phenomenal filly," Castellano said. "I'm very proud of her. She is unbelievable. She took off from the quarter-pole to home. She was ready to run today."
Via Villaggio lodged her bid from last on the outside but was clearly second best with Kent Desormeaux along. Amie's Dini, ridden by Jon Court, held on for third. Aubby K and Wicked Mizz completed the order of finish; Morrow Cove and Singlet scratched.
It was the first Delaware Oaks win for Dutrow, who has conditioned horses at the eastern oval for more than 19 years.
"The Delaware Oaks is a very special race," the conditioner remarked. "I am overwhelmed. She ran the way she was training. I am very happy with her performance today. I've watched the Delaware Oaks since I was a little kid around 10 years old. There have been so many great fillies to win this race and to watch this race growing up and finally win it after finishing second and third a few times, I cannot thank the people who helped me get here enough."
Grace Hall returned $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10 while Via Villaggio brought $4.40 and $2.60. Amie's Dini paid $2.60.
Bred in Kentucky by Darley out of the Ezzoud mare Season's Greetings, Grace Hall bumped her earnings past the million mark to $1,140,000 from eight starts, with a 5-2-1 record for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and The Elkstone Group. That single third-place finish came in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) this year; earlier she won the March 31 Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) and was second by a neck to Yara in the Feb. 25 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II).
Her 2011 season included three straight victories—a maiden score at Delaware, the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, and the Blue Hen Stakes back at Delaware—before a second in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)