Even-money choice Pontchatrain kicked off the new year with her third consecutive stakes victory on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita Park in the $200,000 Monrovia Stakes (gr. IIT) Jan. 5 (VIDEO).
Glen Hill Farm's 4-year-old daughter of War Front provided trainer Tom Proctor with his fourth win from 12 starters during the young Santa Anita meet.
With steady handling from a confident Gary Stevens, Pontchatrain collared pacesetter Kindle past mid-stretch and prevailed by three-quarters of a length. She completed the about 6 1/2-furlong distance in a superb time of 1:11.14 over firm going.
Proctor, who recorded his 1,000th career victory a day earlier at Tampa Bay Downs, also saddled third-place finisher Purim's Dancer, who was 1 1/4 lengths behind runner-up Kindle. Proctor and Stevens have been a red-hot duo since the Hall of Fame jockey un-retired last year, clicking at better than a 40% win rate.
Pontchatrain was returning from a two-month layoff since taking the Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes (gr. IIIT) over the same downhill layout Nov. 2. She began her current win streak with a three-length tally on the hillside in the Unzip Me Stakes Sept. 28.
Proctor said he couldn't recall any horse of his winning three consecutive stakes over the same course, as Pontchatrain has.
"I wouldn’t think so. I don’t remember past last week, so don’t ask me. I haven’t had any win pretty much three in a row anyway, to be honest."
Stevens said he thought Pontchatrain might have grabbed a quarter at the start but she recovered after a couple of jumps. Afterward, she was found to have partially sprung a shoe.
Stalking between horses down the hill, Pontchatrain raced in third after a half-mile as Kindle, leading Winding Way by a length, carved quarter mile fractions of :22.08 and :43.45 for Rafael Bejarano. Pontchatrain swung three wide for the drive to eventually take a short lead from the stubborn Kindle, then proved best in the final stages as Stevens employed a hand ride.
"She’s still a young filly loaded with talent and she’s still learning," Stevens said. "There are races down the road, so I don’t think there’s any use in being in a hurry with her. She’s got a great turn of foot and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom stretch her out at some point. She’s got that ability and I was thinking about her next step as we were crossing the dirt believe it or not."
Kindle, making her first start in 11 months for trainer Gary Mandella, was game in defeat while finishing second in the Monrovia for the second year in a row. She was beaten by back-to-back Monrovia winner Mizdirection in last year's edition. Purim's Dancer, ridden by Joe Talamo, made a game bid along the rail in the stretch but settled for third.
Pontchatrain, bred in Kentucky by Lavin Bloodstock and Kenowa Stable out of the stakes-placed Housebuster mare Dominica, was purchased for $200,000 from the Longfield Farm consignment to the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
She has now won five of seven starts while earning $324,882.
Proctor said he hasn't given any thought to what might be next for Pontchatrain.
"I’m just trying to get well," he said. "I’ve been deathly ill all week. I didn’t think I was going to make it to 1,000 (career) wins. I thought I was going to die first.”
Pontchatrain, who came into the race off back-to-back bullet drills including a :59 flat five-furlong move Dec. 31, paid $4.20, $2.40, and $2.10. Kindle, the 2-1 second choice making her first appearance since running third in the Santa Monica Stakes (gr. II) last Jan. 26, returned $3.20 and $2.60. Purim's Dancer, who was also give a freshening by Proctor since her fifth-place effort in the Maddy, paid $3.60. The all-chalk exacta was worth $11.80.
Juddmonte's Ultrasonic, making her United States debut for trainer Bob Baffert, finished fourth. She was followed by Ciao Bella Luna, Winding Way, and Camryn Kate. Golden Production, Judy In Disguise, and Sky High Gal all scratched.