Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Zo Impressive captured the $294,000 Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park June 23 after 1-2 favorite Contested faded badly and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Believe You Can failed to menace (VIDEO).
The daughter of Hard Spun edged Disposablepleasure by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile test for five 3-year-old fillies. Believe You can settled for third while the speedster Contested weakened along the inside and came home last on a track rated good.
Sent off at odds of 6-1 off of a runner-up finish five lengths behind Contested in the May 28 TVG Acorn Stakes (gr. I) last time out, Zo Impressive was third behind a pace set by the favorite. Contested went an opening quarter in :23.08 and the half in :46.47 under jockey Javier Castellano while longshot Wildcat's Smile pressed in second and 5-2 second choice Believe You Can took the rail trip with rider Rosie Napravnik.
Rajiv Maragh kept Zo Impressive in perfect striking position in the three-path, ratcheting her into gear after tracking three-quarters in 1:11.28. When they hit the turn, Believe You Can had no place to run and Contested dropped back out of contention, so the gray filly ranged up to take the lead.
Her first stakes victory did not come without a fight, as Disposablepleasure commenced a determined rally from last on the outside under Ramon Dominguez. But Zo Impressive turned back the challenge while drifting slightly in deep stretch. She survived an objection to score for trainer Tom Albertrani in a final time of 1:44.28.
Zo Impressive paid $14.60, $6.60, and $10; Disposablepleasure returned $5.90 and $10.20; and Believe You Can paid $5.20 as a weary third, 9 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Wildcat’s Smile was fourth, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Contested.
"Going into the race, she was very sharp," Albertrani said. "We had a great post and everything worked out exactly as we planned. We wanted to be in a position where we could eyeball Contested, and everything just worked out beautifully.
"You could definitely see she was a lot more focused today going into the race; that’s what probably made a difference. Timing means everything, and she was training well coming into this race so that meant a lot."
Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, said Contested did not handle the track.
"I think the track she ran on in the Acorn was just a much different track," Barnes said. "This was kind of wet down deep inside and kind of a dead track; it didn’t look like it had life to where they were bouncing over it. She looked to be running fairly easy early, but I knew at the top of the stretch, or even before then, that we were in serious trouble."
Trainer Larry Jones had no excuse for Believe You Can's failure to fire.
“It’s my Mother Goose jinx – I’ve never had any luck in this race," he said. "I was second with Joyful Victory last year, Proud Spell didn’t win, and neither did Island Sand. I think maybe next time we’ll skip the Mother Goose and go straight to the Coaching Club American Oaks."
Zo Impressive, a Kentucky homebred out of the Cozzene mare Zoftig, was unraced as a 2-year-old. She has now won three of her five starts this year, with her two seconds both coming in graded-stakes company. She was runner-up to Grace Hall in the March 31 Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (gr. II) March 31.
“It wasn’t a big field, but it was probably the four best fillies you’ve got in the country right now, so that’s what made the race pretty special,” Albertrani said. “We always had confidence in our filly, and she was just very sharp today and gave us a lot of confidence going into the race.
"She came out running and she’s so easy to place that Rajiv just took her back as planned, just to give her a target and wait, wait, wait until the right time.”
According to Albertrani, a future target for Zo Impressive could be the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course July 21.
"I don’t think (more distance) should hurt her any," he said. "We’ll see when we get to Saratoga with two turns again, try to stretch her out to a mile and an eighth. We’re just happy to get the grade I--that’s important--and as long as she comes out of the race healthy, that’s really what we want.”