Ridden by John Velazquez, the 3-5 shot Safari Queen set slow fractions on a track slowed by several days of rain but steadily pulled away from the strung out the field approaching the quarter pole in the 1 1/2-mile event for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Lode filly put the field away by the time she reached the eighth pole and won without urging in a time of 2:38 2/5.
A two-time group I winner in her native country, Safarai Queen was coming off a one-half length win in Aqueduct's Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) on a good turf Nov. 4. Her seventh win in 12 lifetime starts was worth $120,000 to owner Arindel Farm and hiked her bankroll to $380,489. The chestnut has won four of eight starts for Pletcher in the U.S.
"It was nice to know going in that she had won the two races on dirt in Argentina," Pletcher said. "She trained fine on the dirt, but we thought she would do better on turf. Now she's two-for-two going a mile-and-a-half.
"Today's race opens up more options, although we'll still focus on turf stakes, but if one comes off, then we can go ahead with her."
Safari Queen carved extremely soft fractions of :26 2/5, :53, 1:20 3/5 and 1:46 3/5 while leading by up to two lengths after a mile. Private Betty, with Jose Lezcano riding, pressured the leader for about a quarter of mile, getting to within a half-length but tired coming off the turn and was passed on the inside by the stalking Barancella, ridden by Javier Castellano. Doryphar nipped Wait It Out for fourth in a field of five reduced by the scratch of Royal Highness, who was second to Safari Queen in the Long Island.
"There was no speed in this race at all, so we thought we could take advantage of that," Velazquez said. "We got away with very slow fractions and she handled the wet track without any difficulty."
Making her debut on a wet track, the winner paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10, topping a $6.60 exacta with the French-bred Barancella, who returned $2.60 and $2.10 as the 118-pound top weight. Private Betty was $2.10 to show.