Front-running Tar Heel Mom overpowered her four rivals in the $150,000 Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO), drawing off in the stretch for a 5 3/4-length romp at Saratoga Aug. 7.
Ridden by Alex Solis, 6-year-old Tar Heel Mom added the Honorable Miss to her multiple stakes-winning resume for owner Alex Rankin and trainer Stanley Hough. The winning time for the six-furlong test of older fillies and mares was 1:10.42 over a "good" track.
The winning daughter of Flatter was sent off as the slight 9-5 favorite over Southern California shipper Irish Gypsy, who showed little from the rail after breaking sharply. Irish Gypsy, the 121-pound top weight, finished fourth.
Wild News and Tar Heel Mom vied briefly for the early lead before Tar Heel Mom established control while stepping quarter-mile fractions of :22.40 and :45.24.
Tar Heel Mom continued to lead rounding the turn as Beat the Blues attempted to challenge for Miguel Mena. But Tar Heel Mom, under good handling by Solis, was too tough and drew away effortlessly, leading by 4 1/2 lengths at mid-stretch and being kept to her task in the final furlong.
"She was going real relaxed," Solis said. "I made sure I had a nice hold on her, and at the top of the stretch I let her go a little bit. She responded, I tapped her a couple of times, and she was strong.”
Beat the Blues finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Champagne d'Oro, who was making her first appearance at Saratoga since winning the Test Stakes (gr. I) one year ago. Irish Gypsy and Wild News trailed.
Tar Heel Mom, bred in Kentucky by Upson Downs Farm, won for the fourth time in seven starts in 2011 with a pair of of seconds. Tar Heel Mom previously won the Distaff Handicap (gr. II) on a muddy Aqueduect track in April 2010 and the Sugar Swirl Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park in January. She has captured six of 10 lifetime starts on wet tracks and is three-for-four at Saratoga.
Hough said he knew the wet track would not bother Tar Heel Mom and was happy to see speed holding in earlier races.
"I just told Alex to get her out good, and play it by ear, and she went," Hough said. "I really thought (Wild News) would probably go to the lead and we’d lay just off of her. Obviously (Tar Heel Mom) did it on her own, so it worked out great. She’s a special mare. She tries so hard and it’s a real thrill to have her."
Hough said he would like to keep Tar Heel Mom racing at six furlongs but would consider Saratoga's Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) at seven panel Aug. 27.
Overall, the consistent dark bay/brown mare has an 11-7-5 record in 28 starts with earnings of $778,392. She is out of the Sunny's Halo mare Perpetual Light.
Tar Heel Mom carried 118 pounds and paid $5.70, $3.40, $2.50. Beat the Blues returned $6.60 and $3, and completed a $25.20 exacta. Champagne d'Oro paid $2.70 to show.