Off since Breeders' Cup weekend, Marketing Mix shook off the rust to close gamely between horses in the stretch under Gary Stevens, nipping a hard-charging Tiz Flirtatious by a head in the $250,000 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) May 27 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Marketing Mix, the 3-2 favorite in the field of seven older fillies and mares for the Memorial Day feature, picked right up where she left off for Glen Hill Farm and trainer Tom Proctor. A winner of four of seven starts and more than $1.1 million last year, she capped her season with a superb runner-up effort to champion Zagora in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 2.
"She makes me look good, that's how good she is. That's hard to do," Proctor marveled about Marketing Mix. "You never know how fit they are until they run. If they aren't, they get beat; if they are, they don't. She's always run well off a layoff."
A little more than a week after winning the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) aboard Oxbow , Stevens was in the winner's circle again in a prestigious grade I event. Riding Marketing Mix, who stalked in third throughout the 1 1/8-mile turf event, for the first time, he drove the 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro to victory using his right-handed stick to prevail in a terrific finish over the battling Tiz Flirtatious. Final time was 1:47.24 over a firm turf course.
"Julien (Leparoux, aboard Tiz Flirtatious) and I were both trying to make the winning move coming into the stretch," said Stevens after winning the Gamely for the first time since 1997 on Donna Viola. "About the sixteenth pole we were getting them cranked up and his mare actually had a little better turn of foot than mine did, but we managed to get up in time.
"I thought I beat him, but he was so far out; when I stood up it looked like he might have been in front. Julien asked me, 'What do you think/' and I said, 'I have no idea.' Two good performances by two very good mares.''
Pamela Ziebarth's California homebred Tiz Flirtatious, winner of the Santa Ana Stakes (gr. IIT) in her most recent start, was an unlucky second. She was well clear of third-place finisher Lady of Shamrock, who pipped Halo Dolly at the wire for third.
Marketing Mix, bred in Ontario, Canada, by Sean Fitzhenry out of the Kris S mare Instant Thought, posted her ninth lifetime win from 17 starts while increasing her earnings to $1,809, 518. Marketing Mix's second dam is graded stakes-placed Nimble Mind, a full-sister to grade I winner Contredance and graded stakes winners Skimble and Shotiche.
The good-looking dark bay mare was making her initial start at Hollywood. Among her wins last year were the Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park prior to the Breeders' Cup, and the Nassau (Can-IIT) and Dance Smartly (Can-IIT) stakes at Woodbine.
Breaking from the outside gate, she settled comfortably in third off the rail for Stevens as a rank 52-1 shot Miss Ellany took the early advantage over Halo Dolly. She opened up by as much as 2 1/2 lengths on the backstretch while posting fractions of :24.41, :48,39, and 1:11.90 and continued to show the way over Halo Dolly and Marketing Mix well into the stretch before weakening.
Just past mid-stretch, Marketing Mix gained a short lead between Tiz Flirtatious, who was making a big run from the far outside for Leparoux, and a tiring Halo Dolly. Marketing Mix had to beat back the relentless challenger in the final strides and the wire came just in time for her after a long stretch run for Stevens.
"She ran a good race to be second to Marketing Mix," Leparoux said of Tiz Flirtatious. "I put some pressure around the three-eighths pole and actually got the jump on Marketing Mix and went by her, but she came back and beat us. Marketing Mix is a good mare. She did not run second in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf for nothing, but my mare is very good too and she ran a big race today."
It was 4 1/4 lengths back to the dual grade I winner Lady of Shamrock, who got going from last too late for Rafael Bejarano while finishing a nose in front of Halo Dolly. Then came My Gi Gi, Miss Ellany, and Private Affair.
Marketing Mix carried co-high weight of 123 pounds and paid $5, $3.20, and $2.20. Tiz Flirtatious, under 119, returned $3.20 and $2.20 while part of an exacta worth $11.20. Lady of Shamrock, now winless in three starts this year for trainer John Sadler, paid $2.40.
"She ran her heart out," trainer Marty Jones lamented after the tough loss by Tiz Flirtatious. "Those are two super nice mares. Just another jump and we would have gotten to her, but that's horse racing.
"This was a hard race. It was a gut-wrenching race so we'll have to see how she responds. Hopefully she's still doing well at the end of the year so we can make the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita," Jones added.