Making the lead all on her own from post 7 in the field of eight 3-year-olds for the 1 1/16-mile turf contest, the Michael Stidham trainee secured the advantage going into the first turn and set a soft pace on the good going with an opening :24.36 quarter and a half in :49.21. Fellow speedster Solitary Ranger rated along in second, about 1 1/2 lengths away, and held that position while eventual runner-up Long On Value followed closely in third.
Posting three-quarters in 1:14.13, Istanford rounded the turn for home and quickened under jockey James Graham, keeping Long On Value at bay while putting up a 1:37.86 mile. Afortable, favored at 8-5, could not close from far back in time and had to settle for the show in the Arlington Classic, the first leg of the Mid-America Triple. Final time was 1:43.60.
"She's great; she's absolutely beautiful," said Graham, who has been aboard Istanford for all three of her career wins. "She showed it today. If they give her a breather, they ain't catching her. I've wanted to ride her all along but sometimes I couldn't get off another horse I was supposed to ride. We were going to lay off (the pace) if (Solitary Ranger) wanted the lead, but evidently he didn't. So she just bounced around here happy as can be, and came on home."
It was the first victory of the season for the daughter of Istan , who had not put up another score for partners Ike and Dawn Thrash and Janet and Sam Alley since taking a Dec. 19 mile turf allowance at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. She came off a good second in the May 2 Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs, that effort a fine recovery from an 11th in the April 5 Ashland (gr. I) on Keeneland Polytrack. Earlier in the season, she was second in the Florida Oaks (gr. IIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs.
"We didn't have a lot of options for a filly race, so we thought 'let's just keep her here and run out of her own stall,'" Stidham said. "I've run in this race a few times and I feel it's the easiest of the three races (in the Mid-America series). Our filly had been running good and had been beat by some pretty good fillies in her last two losses. We felt fairly confident that we had a chance in the race."
Off at odds of 5-1, Istanford paid $12.20, $5.60, and $4.20. Long On Value returned $4.80 and $3.20 under Brian Hernandez Jr., with Afortable bringing $3 under Julien Leparoux. Chief Barker, Tiger Bourbon, Rankhasprivileges, Solitary Ranger, and Ry's the Man completed the order of finish.
“We had a pretty good trip; I just wish the horse on the lead had a little more pressure on her, but she didn’t,” Hernandez explained. “She had everything kind of go her way, then we had to run into her. It just slowed down a lot in front of us. We ran a good race and he sprinted home, but the filly had a little more sprint in her.”
Leparoux echoed similar sentiments. “It was a good trip," he said. "They didn’t really back up at the end. He made his run, but there wasn’t a lot of pace. He ran big.”
Istanford, bred in Florida by Hardacre Farm out of the Tale of the Cat mare Aerocat, now has three wins and two seconds from eight starts, with earnings of $207,246. She is 2-for-3 at Arlington, where she broke her maiden in her debut going a mile on the turf by five lengths last August. She was a $25,000 purchase by Ike and Dawn Thrash at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. Florida summer yearling sale in 2012, when consigned by Summerfield, agent.
Only two fillies have won the Arlington Classic, and none had done it since long before it was moved to turf in 1994. Twilight Tear took the 1944 edition, then called the Classic and run at one mile on the dirt at Washington Park, and Tosmah won in 1964 when it was run at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt.
The second leg of the Mid-America Triple, the July 12 American Derby (gr. IIT) leading to the Aug. 16 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), is a possible next start for Istanford. Stidham said she would be nominated to a variety of races as her connections consider their options.