She won the Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) last time out at odds of 39-1, and Emma's Encore proved that score no fluke when she earned her first grade I victory for trainer Allen Jerkens by a nose in the $300,000 Prioress Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 4 (VIDEO).
It was the first grade I triumph for Jerkens, 83, since 2007 when he saddled Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) victress Miss Shop at the Spa.
"Like the old days," said Jerkens, who was honored with a round of applause from the crowd when he met the 3-year-old daughter of Congrats in the winner's circle. A $2,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, she has developed into the best horse in his current stable.
"I think she improved a little from the Victory Ride," the Hall of Fame trainer remarked. "She had to run her very best. Everything has to go well. The horse has to run good, the horse has to be good, has to be fit enough. She really had to run today. Nothing was in her favor today, looking at the late scratch. It looked like speed was holding on pretty good."
That late scratch was Jamaican Smoke, who had been expected to apply pressure to 4-5 favorite Agave Kiss. With speed holding well all day, the favorite had no excuses while setting the pace comfortably in front while hitting a quarter mile in :22.15 and a half in :44.64.
Last of six at the start under jockey Junior Alvarado, Emma's Encore gradually put herself into the race while angling outward on the turn. Spinning three wide into the lane, she had Judy the Beauty to catch, since that one had taken over the lead from a tiring Agave Kiss in the final 70 yards. She continued to close determinedly down the outside and stuck a nose in front in the shadow of the wire. Final time for the six-furlong test was 1:09.35.
"After she won the Victory Ride, I was really confident in her," Alvarado remarked. "She broke really good again. I got her to settle and feel comfortable in the race. We tried to save ground because I knew we were going to be running late. Turning for home, she was moving, but we were wider than I wanted to be. She gave me a really nice kick at the end. She ran really hard to win that race. Approaching the wire, I knew we had it. These last two races have really worked out well for us."
Bred in Florida by Equest Thoroughbreds out of the Wild Again mare French Opera, Emma's Encore has won four races with a second and a third from 10 starts, earning $342,958 for Brenda Mercer and Peter Berglar.
The Prioress marked the second straight defeat for third-place finisher Agave Kiss, who was fifth in the Victory Ride after opening her career with six straight wins, including the Grade 3 Cicada at Aqueduct Racetrack in March.
"I think she ran the way she wanted to run," said Agave Kiss's trainer, Rudy Rodriguez. "Maybe the other horse is a little bit better than her right now. Maybe the heat took something out of her. We scoped her after the Victory Ride and she came back nice and clean. You always want to win, but she ran the way we wanted her to run and came back OK."