Rose to Gold wins the Houston Ladies Classic.

Rose to Gold wins the Houston Ladies Classic.

Coady Photography

Rose to Gold Rises to Ladies Classic Test

On comeback trail after surgery, she earns a fourth graded stakes win at Sam Houston.

Rose to Gold picked up the fourth graded stakes win of her career after running down favored Unusual Way to win the second renewal of the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic (VIDEO) on the night of Jan. 25 at Sam Houston Race Park.

Rose to Gold, who broke from the inside post in the field of eight older fillies and mares, was never far off the rail while ridden to victory by Jesus Rios for trainer Sal Santoro. After tracking pacesetter Unusual Way in third, the 4-year-old daughter of Friends Lake slipped past her along the inside in deep stretch to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths.

"(Rios) saw a little daylight, and Rose was pretty courageous," said Santoro. "I am proud of them both."

Southern California invader Unusual Way was made a slight 2-1 favorite over Class Included, who pushed the pace but wound up third, four lengths behind the winner.

Rose to Gold was timed in 1:43.87 for the 1 1/16-mile distance on a fast main track. Unusual Way, ridden by Edwin Maldonado (who was previously based at Sam Houston), established a moderate tempo with quarter mile fractions of :24.16, :48.08, and 1:12.37. She edged clear by 1 1/2 lengths over Rose to Gold and the tiring Class Included in the stretch before weakening late.

Winner of the Delta Downs Princess, Honeybee, and Fantasy (all gr. III) stakes previously, Rose to Gold went to the sidelines following an eighth-place finish in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) last spring with surgery to remove several bone chips. The Ladies Classic was her third start back following unplaced finishes in Florida on turf in the My Charmer Handicap Dec. 7 and Marshua's River Stakes (both gr. IIIT) Jan. 4.

Rose to Gold is owned by Alex Centofanti, and races under the names of his wife Kathleen and their son, Raffaele. Bred in Kentucky by the Mulholland family, she is out of the Tabasco Cat mare Saucy and was a bargain basement $1,400 yearling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky mixed sale in February 2011.

According to her trainer, Rose To Gold will return to Oaklawn Park, where she won the Honeybee and Fantasy last spring.

"We will get her home (to Calder) and see how she comes out of this race," Santoro said. "Then we hope to look at the Azeri (gr. II) as a prep for the Apple Blossom (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park."

The finish took a little of the luster off the homecoming for Maldonado, who made his first trip back to Houston in over a decade. He began his career at Sam Houston as an apprentice and is now one of the top riders on the Southern California circuit.

"She was running well and appeared comfortable in the surface," Maldonado said of Unusual Way, who is trained by Jeff Bonde. "I whipped her left-handed and she ducked out, which gave the winner just enough room to get through. She ran a good race."

Rose to Gold earned $240,000 for the effort, boosting her career total to $963,509 with six wins from 11 starts.

Sent off as the fourth choice, the chestnut filly paid $12.40, $5.40, and $3.40 while toting 116 pounds. Unusual Way returned $4 and $2.40 while completing a $41.40 exacta, with Class Included paying $2.80.

Moon Philly ran fourth, followed by And Why Not, Awesome Flower, Phonybooksnrecords, and Do You Like Me Now.

The Houston Ladies Classic was the first stakes of the inaugural Penn Gaming Racing Challenge. The national program will incorporate more than 20 stakes races in 2014 worth more than $5.5 million. The stakes will take place at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Sam Houston, and Zia Park.