Rose to Gold may bear the distinction of having the most modest sale price of any filly in the starting gate for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), but you would never know it by looking at her multiple graded stakes-winning record.
Small in stature as a yearling, the chestnut daughter of Friends Lake—Saucy, by Tabasco Cat was bought for just $1,400 as one of 20-25 horses purchased by owner Alex Centofanti at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February mixed sale.
"The owner had the intention of buying a bunch of yearlings that we were going to (pinhook) in the (Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s select yearling sale)" said trainer Sal Santoro. "He wanted me to go, but it was too damn cold—it was like 20 degrees and I said, 'I'm not leaving South Florida; you're out of your mind.' So he went and bought almost everything that was walking in the ring."
Santoro and Centofanti met because of their mutual love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Santoro formerly broke and trained Thoroughbreds on a farm in Long Island, N.Y., but sold his business when he got a divorce. He moved to Miami for a job at the Harley store located about five minutes from Calder Casino & Race Course.
Centofanti, a native of Venezuela, struck up a conversation with Santoro while buying bikes at Harley one day. Centofanti had grown up in a horse racing family in Venezuela, and after finding out about Santoro's training experience, he hired him to condition some of his local horses.
Even though Rose to Gold, who races in the name of Centofanti's wife, Kathy Amaya, and son Raffaele, was unimposing in size, she still made an impression on Santoro at Centofanti's farm near Ocala.
"I asked, 'Who's that one?' said Santoro of the filly, who traveled well across the field and dominated her paddock companions.
While impressed by Rose to Gold's natural abilities, Santoro and Centofanti still put her in the OBS sale with the other yearlings in an attempt to make a profit. They were unsuccessful.
"We put a price of $10,000-$15,000 and she didn't come anywhere near that," said Santoro of Rose to Gold, who would later garner offers of $500,000 and $1 million after proving herself on the track. "She didn't look like much; nobody wanted her, so we took her home. I told Alex, 'I think she's going to be a nice filly, let's break her and go on with her.' "
After being broken and going through many routine gallops, Rose to Gold blew Santoro away in her first real breeze on the track, covering three-eighths of a mile in :34 and change.
"When the exercise rider came back, I asked him what happened. He said, 'I couldn't slow her down—I tried, but she didn't want to stop,' " remembered Santoro.
Rose to Gold translated her stellar workout tactics into eye-popping performances on the racetrack, winning her first two starts—a pair of stakes at Calder—by a combined margin of 26 1/2 lengths. Following her only off-the-board effort in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I), the filly closed her juvenile career with a score in the Delta Downs Princess Stakes (gr. III).
Rose to Gold made just as big of a splash during her sophomore season, posting victories in the March 9 Honeybee (gr. III) and April 10 Fantasy (gr. III) stakes at Oaklawn Park prior to the Oaks. The filly, who has earned $717,889 from seven starts, will leave from post 9 in the Oaks under three-time Kentucky Derby (gr. I)-winning jockey Calvin Borel, who rode her in both the Honeybee and Fantasy.
Thinking back to Rose to Gold's smallish, mediocre appearance as a young horse, Santoro has trouble believing how far the filly has come. As the hours tick away to the Run for the Lilies, the trainer isn't taking one moment for granted.
"If we finish 100 lengths behind, I'm still going home a winner," said Santoro. "Just to be able to play on that stage, parade under those Twin Spires, and be on holy ground...I'm a winner already. I don't care how it plays out. I'd love to go home with that prize money, trophy, and everything else, but just being here is really fantastic; I really love it."