Besilu Stables' Crown Queen stepped up to graded stakes company Aug. 16 and scored a third consecutive victory when edging out longshot Duff One to win the $285,000 Knob Creek Lake Placid Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course (VIDEO).
The 3-year-old Smart Strike filly, a half sister to champion Royal Delta out of the grade I-producing mare Delta Princess, came off a July 20 allowance score going 1 3/16 miles on the Saratoga turf for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. That victory came after breaking her maiden June 15 over a mile on the Belmont Park lawn.
In a race scratched down to just four sophomore fillies, Crown Queen and jockey John Velazquez prompted Duff One through an easy :24.09 opening quarter, a :48.77 half, and three-quarters in 1:12.71. The 6-5 favorite dropped back slightly and was hard-pressed to make progress through a mile in 1:36.15 as Xcellence engaged with Duff One, but battled outside those two and out-kicked them in the final 70 yards after switching leads while edging away.
"I let (Duff One) go to the lead and concentrated on the two horses behind me, so it worked out," Velazquez said. "It took about an eighth of a mile to get her going, but once she switched (leads) down the lane, and I hit her a couple of times, she responded really well the last sixteenth of a mile."
"To run down those fillies, it makes you wish you were ready to run a month ago (in the Belmont Oaks)," Mott said. "She ran well. She showed us that she really belongs at the top level."
"It was (a rider's race). In those cases, you're glad that you have a Hall of Fame rider in your court, and someone that has the experience that Johnny does. He'll make the right call as the race develops, and I think he did. We planned on not sending her to the lead; I was afraid she might run off. She broke and grabbed the bit and she was a little bit anxious the first quarter mile, but relaxed well once she headed down the backside."
Bred in Kentucky by Palides Investments out of Delta Princess, an A.P. Indy mare, Crown Queen improved her record to three wins and two thirds from five starts and earnings of $293,000. She was a $1.6 million purchase from Chanteclair Farm's consignment in the Palides dispersal at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Trainer Gary Contessa said he was pleased with the effort of Duff One, who inherited the lead as the lone speed under jockey Jose Ortiz.
"That would have been a beautiful upset," Contessa said. "That would have been wonderful. With the scratches and everything, it looked like we were going to be lone speed. Even though my filly doesn't want to be on the lead, I said to Jose (Ortiz), 'If you're going to be there, be there as slow as possible.'
"And she ran great. She tried hard. She's always been a gritty filly. I don't think she's ever run a bad race, but she always seems to be a little over her head. She showed up today and enhanced her pedigree, to say the least."