By Jerry Bossert
It wasn't the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) , but it was another stakes winner for owner Robert S. Evans and trainer Christophe Clement when Irish Mission ran down Viva Rafaela to take the $150,000 Glens Falls Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 31.
Clement and Evans, who teamed up to win the Belmont Stakes earlier this year with Tonalist, watched lukewarm favorite Irish Mission reel in pacesetter Viva Rafaela in the final strides to prevail by a half-length, giving the 5-year-old mare her fifth career win from 25 starts. The Canadian classic winner and two-time Sovereign Award recipient earned the first graded victory of her career.
"I think she can do even better that that," Clement said. "I'm delighted because the filly deserves to win. Mr. Evans, as you know, has been a big supporter of the stable with Tonalist and I'm delighted for him. She's the most beautiful mare to look at. She's obviously going to be a great broodmare prospect in the future."
Racing over the inner turf layout, Irish Mission ran third for the opening mile, chasing pacesetter Viva Rafaela throughout while saving ground under John Velazquez. Following the leader into the stretch, Irish Mission tipped out off of the rail at the eighth pole, caught Viva Rafaela with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go and proved best. The 1 3/8-mile event went in 2:15.01 over a course labeled firm but wet from light rain showers.
Viva Rafaela, ridden by Javier Castellano, carved an opening half mile in :49.61, six furlongs in 1:15.56, the mile in 1:39.98, and 10 furlongs in 2:15.01 before giving way in the final 70 yards.
"She broke good," Velazquez said of the winner. "I put her right behind the speed and came out at the eighth pole. When I needed her, she responded. She made me look good. It worked out good today. I had her covered up when I needed to and got out when I needed to."
Previously trained by Mark Frostad, Irish Mission lost the first six starts of her career before breaking her maiden at Keeneland April 26, 2012. In her next, she won the Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser before finishing second in the $1 million Queen's Plate Stakes against males June 24.
After a sixth in the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the daughter of Giant's Causeway came back to capture the final leg, the Breeders' Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the Woodbine turf.
However, in her next 13 starts, she only won once, taking an allowance race at Woodbine July 24, 2013.
She was moved from Frostad's barn to Clement this year, and finished second in both the Belmont Gold Cup June 6 and the grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth Park July 27 before finally breaking through Sunday in the Glens Falls. The victory snapped a seven-race losing skid and boosted Irish Mission's career earnings to $1,183,443.
"We have three major races in the fall for fillies and mares, and we'll aim at one of them," Clement said.
He said the options are the Flower Bowl (gr. IT) at Belmont on Sept. 27, the E.P. Taylor (Can-IT) Oct. 19 at Woodbine, and the Rodeo Drive (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Sept. 27.
Viva Rafaela just held off Caroline Thomas by a neck for second, and they were followed by Watsdachances, Aigue Marine, Cat's Claw, Emotional Kitten, and Pleasant Cat.
Irish Mission paid $8.50, $4.60, and $3.40. Viva Rafaela returned $5.50 and $3.70, while Caroline Thomas paid $4.80 to show.
Out of the Miswaki mare Misty Mission, Irish Mission is an Ontario-bred by Sam-Son Farm. Her breeder sold Irish Mission for $375,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale to Lawley-Wakelin Bloodstock, agent, racing manager for Evans.
Irish Mission, a half sister to dual grade III winner French Beret (by Broad Brush), is the fifth winner from six starters from her dam, who won the 2000 Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine.
By Jerry Bossert