Steve Beneto's Sweet Lulu shipped across the country, ran on dirt for the first time, tackled graded stakes company, and emerged victorious in the $500,000 Test Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 24 (VIDEO).
Trained by California-based Hall of Fame horseman Jerry Hollendorfer, the 3-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley contested a hot pace with Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) winner Baby J, put that one away turning for home, and fought on gamely to deny the challenge of Azelea Stakes (gr. III) winner Wildcat Lily by a head. Grade III winner My Happy Face closed with a rush to finish third by a neck after getting spun extremely wide on the turn.
Sweet Lulu completed the seven-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies in 1:23.45 on a fast track under jockey Julien Leparoux.
"I was a little concerned when she got headed, and then Julien rode hard and she came back, fought back and won," Hollendorfer said. "She's done everything we've asked her to do. I didn't know if I should ship her this soon and come back here and try this, but she was doing so well and showing speed, and this is a grade I and a very important race for pedigree, so we decided to try it."
Sent off favored at 9-5, Sweet Lulu settled in hand while pressing Baby J through an opening quarter in :22.28 and a half in :44.95. She took over rolling into the stretch and was set down for the drive through three-quarters in 1:10.07, then had to deal with the outside advance of Wildcat Lily. Headed with a furlong to go, the chestnut filly gamely resurged to inch in front near the sixteenth pole, holding well to prevail on the line.
Sweet Lulu returned $5.60, $4, and $2.60, while 7-1 Wildcat Lily paid $6.60 and $3.50 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. My Happy Face paid $2.50 at 2-1. So Many Ways, Lighthouse Bay, Irish Lute, I'm Mom's Favorite, and Baby J completed the order of finish. Ju Ju Eyeballs was an early scratch.
Sweet Lulu is now a perfect 4-for-4, having won her first three starts easily on the all weather surfaces of Del Mar and Betfair Hollywood Park for Beneto, a commissioner on the California Horse Racing Board. She was bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds out of the Orientate mare Successful Outlook, and was a $270,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase in 2011. The Test purse boosted her earnings to $411,600.
"She trained on dirt as a 2-year-old," Hollendorfer said. "I had her at Pleasanton with all my 2-year-olds and she liked it there. We weren't that concerned about it."
Leparoux said he was confident in his mount from the get-go. He went wire-to-wire with her last out at Del Mar by 4 3/4 frontrunning lengths in a one-mile optional claimer on July 24.
"She's been showing a lot in the mornings and every race," the jockey remarked. "I only rode her the one time, but she showed a lot already. We were confident today, and she proved she was the kind of filly we thought she was."She's been showing a lot in the mornings and every race," the jockey remarked. "I only rode her the one time, but she showed a lot already. We were confident today, and she proved she was the kind of filly we thought she was.
"The speed is pretty good today, so we wanted to have a clear trip on the lead or somewhere close. We got a perfect trip. Johnny came to me, and it looked like he came maybe even in front of me, and she fought back and came back to win."
A start in the Breeders' Cup World Championships will likely be in the cards for Sweet Lulu, but according to Hollendorfer, the filly's connections will have to discuss their options after hitting this target first.
"I think we would look at something like that," he said of a potential Breeders' Cup run. "I didn't make any other long-term plans. This was my point race; my owner agreed to it, and here we are."
Chad Brown, trainer of My Happy Face, was pleased with the effort of Michael Dubb's sophomore filly, who came off a strong runner-up effort in the July 20 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga to show under Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
"She ran huge," Brown said. "Unfortunately, there were a lot of horses stopping at the quarter pole. Mike just felt that there were a lot of tired horses ahead of him and they all decided to stack themselves across the track, trying to give themselves the best shot they could. Unfortunately it spun us seven-, eight-, nine-wide.
"She ran her race; it's just one of those things when you have a big field in horse racing. Sometimes you're not going to get the best trip. Mike did the best he could. I thought she ran her 'A' race, probably just lost a little too much ground turning for home."