Third and beaten by nearly seven lengths by Tell a Kelly in the Darley Debutante Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar one month ago, Rigoletta relished the increase in distance from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. The daughter of Concerto earned a berth in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Rigoletta, who is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and would require a 9% supplemental fee to be eligible, paid $67.40 for the win, the biggest price in the 42-year history of the Oak Leaf. David Flores guided the bay filly to the narrow victory for trainer Dan Hendricks and owner Thor-Bred Stable. The final time was 1:44.03 over the Cushion Track
Pacesetter Indian Gracey finished third, a length behind Tell a Kelly.
Rigoletta broke her maiden at Del Mar in her second start Aug. 8 and was jumped directly into grade I company in the Darley Debuatante, where she ran respectably at 30-1 odds.
In the Oak Leaf, Flores had her running comfortably in second as Indian Gracey went to the front and carved quarter-mile splits of :23.70, :47.50, and 1:11.96. Second choice Alienation, expected to set the pace, didn't break well and pulled her way up into a tracking position in third. Tell a Kelly, unhurried for Alonso Quinonez, ranged into contention on the final turn with a sharp bid at the rail.
Rigoletta and Indian Gracey, ridden by Joe Talamo, dueled for the lead into the stretch as Tell a Kelly came off the fence a bit, waited for room and forced her way between the other two at the eighth pole. Rigoletta, on the outside under right-handed urging from Flores, kept Tell a Kelly in close quarters as the three fillies battled evenly at mid-stretch. Rigoletta and Tell a Kelly inched away from Indian Gracey in deep stretch, with Rigoletta prevailing in the last strides.
"She was in the bridle the whole way," said Flores after his fourth win in the Oak Leaf. "She's got one of those long strides so I was surprised she was so aggressive early. (Alonso) Quinonez (Tell a Kelly’s rider) was going to sneak in there but I just kind of put my filly back in there and boy is she game. When Tell a Kelly bumped her, it got her into the race more ... she got aggressive and fought back. I thought I was going to get beat but that seemed to make her madder."
Quinonez said he felt he had little option but to try to squeeze between horses.
"She wasn't going by the one in front (Indian Gracey) and I didn't think I had enough horse to go around," Quinonez said. "I thought it would be easier just to push out Rigoletta a little bit and keep on going. She was working real good and everything set up perfectly for her; we really didn't have any excuses."
A $35,000 buy as a 2-year-old in training at the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s April sale, Rigoletta earned $120,000 for the victory. She improved her record to 2-0-1 in four starts and raised her earnings to $180,820.
“I think the reason she was a big price is she’s more of a grinder but going two turns sometimes that grinding works very well," Hendricks noted. "She let the speed out ahead and closers can’t get to you all the time.
“She’s not over-aggressive, she just kind of grabs the bit like, 'OK, let’s go,' but as soon as he gets her settled she’s fine. She was a little more on the bit that I wanted but (I) felt real confident in it.”
On paying the supplemental fee for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Hendricks said, “My vote is we run. No guts no glory. You’re going for the championship. I’d love to go.”
John Sadler, trainer of Tell a Kelly, said his filly was a "little compromised by the trip but we thought she ran a good race. We’re disappointed not to win but we’ll probably go on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Ocala Stud bred Rigoletta in Florida. She is out of the Montbrook mare Almost Aprom Queen.
Rigoletta paid $11.40 to place and $4.60 to show while topping a $116.60 exacta in combination with Tell a Kelly, who returned $2.60 and $2.10. Indian Gracey (17-1) was $4 to show as part of a $1,430 trifecta. Izshelegal, off at 7-1, finished a distant fourth and rounded out a $1 superfecta worth $1,855.20.
True Way of Grace, Alienation, and Pacific Pride completed the order of finish.