With Jose Ortiz setting her loose three wide turning for home, Royal Lahaina pounced on the lead, opened a two-length advantage in mid-stretch, and was never threatened in upsetting the $300,000 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. II) by 2 1/2 lengths.
The victory was the fourth straight win at Aqueduct for James Riccio's Royal Lahaina, who closed last year and opened this season with victories on the inner dirt in allowance/optional claiming races. In her most recent Aqueduct start before Friday's Go For Wand, the Chapel Royal mare registered a half-length victory in an optional claiming contested at the same conditions as the Go for Wand: one-mile on the main track.
"She'd been keeping some heady company," said Mike McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher who secured his third Go for Wand victory and first since landing back-to-back editions with Spun Sugar in 2006 and Ashado in 2005. "She'd trained well the past couple of weeks and she certainly has an affinity for Aqueduct. Jose gave her a super ride. Things shook out nicely for them."
Royal Lahaina tracked in third while Fantasy of Flight and Irad Ortiz Jr. cruised through a half-mile in :48.20 before being engaged by longshot Ol Donyo, with Royal Lahaina shadowing her after six furlongs in 1:12.61. Royal Lahaina, three wide into the stretch, quickly emerged and continued well to the wire.
"She broke very well and I was able to get perfect position on the outside," said winning rider Ortiz. "At the three-eighths pole I knew I had a lot of horse so I just waited a little bit. When I asked her to go, she did."
Bred in Kentucky by Anthony Guida, Royal Lahaina is the first graded stakes winner for the winning Bonus Money mare Fabulous Bonus. The dark bay mare improved her record to 7-5-2 in 25 races with earnings of $513,830.
This season easily has been Royal Lahaina's most successful; she earned her first career stakes victory earlier this season in the restricted Mariensky at Belmont Park as well as her only other career stakes placing in the Lady's Secret at Monmouth Park.
Darley Stable's late-running Centring, the 2-1 favorite in the field of seven fillies and mares, came with her move too late to place second, but never threatened the winner. Centring caught My Pal Chrisy, who saw a three-race win streak come to an end, in the final strides for second by a neck.
Royal Lahaina returned $28.20 to win, $9.50 to place and $5 to show. Centring returned $3.50 and $2.80 while My Pal Chrisy paid $3.30 to show.