Imperial Gesture, cruises to win the Beldame at Belmont on Saturday.

Imperial Gesture, cruises to win the Beldame at Belmont on Saturday.

AP/NYRA: Adam Coglianese

Belmont Park Race Report: Grading of Godolphin

Published in the Oct. 12 issue of The Blood-Horse
Even the big bad wolf had to huff and puff before attempting to blow down the three little pigs' houses. So, you can excuse Imperial Gesture for taking one deep breath while cruising along Oct. 5 in the $750,000 Beldame Stakes (gr. I), even if she did scare the pants off jockey Jerry Bailey and assistant trainer Tom Albertrani.

The reason for the concern was that one minute, Imperial Gesture was coasting along with a big lead, having disposed of Allamerican Bertie, and the next, there was Allamerican Bertie suddenly back breathing down her neck.

"It was the weirdest thing I've ever experienced," Bailey said. "She almost propped to take a breath; and it was a big breath. Usually, they'll take it in full flight. They might slow down just a stride, but she almost went to a two-minute lick there for a couple of strides."

Then, just as quickly as her lead had diminished, there it was again. Imperial Gesture quickly opened up by nearly six lengths in mid-stretch, then had no trouble holding off Mandy's Gold and Summer Colony, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.

No one is going to confuse Albertrani with Bobby Frankel, but it seems as if he and members of his Godolphin garrison have been frequenting the winner's circle in major stakes almost as much as the ubiquitous Frankel recently. Godolphin horses have won grade I or II stakes four of the past five weekends, all on the front end. On Sept. 7, Imperial Gesture ran off with the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont, the same day Express Tour put a scare in Lido Palace in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), getting beat a length after battling on the lead the whole way. That same day in Ireland, Albertrani's boss, Saeed bin Suroor, saddled Grandera to defeat Hawk Wing in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I).

Two weeks later, Albertrani sent Essence of Dubai to Louisiana Downs, where he easily won the Super Derby (gr. II) wire to wire. The following week, Albertrani welcomed English Oaks (Eng-I) and One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) winner Kazzia to his barn, then sent her out a few days later to win the Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT). One week later, he was at it again, winning the Beldame.

Albertrani has done wonders turning a potentially disastrous 2002 American campaign into a successful one. First, he lost last year's 2-year-old filly champion Tempera, who died in the spring after coming down with a virus. The stable went on a roll in June and July, winning the Stephen Foster (gr. I) with Street Cry, the Suburban (gr. II) with E Dubai, and the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) with Jilbab. Then, E Dubai was sidelined with a foot injury and is only now back working steadily. In August, the kingpin of the stable, Street Cry, was retired with an injury after being atop most everyone's list of the leading horses in the country.

In 2001, Godolphin's stable with Albertrani won three graded stakes in America, including one grade I. This year, even with the losses of Street Cry and Tempera, they already have won seven graded stakes, including five grade Is, and will be sending three live American-based horses to the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships--Imperial Gesture (Distaff, gr. I), E Dubai (Classic, gr. I), and Kazzia (Filly & Mare Turf, gr. IT).

Deep Breather
The Beldame Stakes drew a top-class field and looked as if it would serve as a launching pad for any missiles hoping to strike that elusive target called Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Arlington Park.

With Azeri having completed her demolition of the Southern California-based fillies and mares in the Oct. 2 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup (gr. II), it was now up to Summer Colony, the only filly to have defeated Azeri, to keep pace with the classy daughter of Jade Hunter.

Summer Colony, however, was coming off a pair of 1 1/4-mile races and was dropping back in distance to nine furlongs around one turn. "We're prepared for anything thrown at us," trainer Mark Hennig said.

But even Hennig couldn't have been prepared for the 6-5 Summer Colony being some nine lengths behind the flying 3-year-olds, Imperial Gesture and Allamerican Bertie, who pulled well clear of the field early.

Walking back to his box before the race, Albertrani said, "This should be a little tougher than the last one. But then again, the 3-year-olds might be stronger than the older fillies this year."

The Beldame did nothing to prove Albertrani wrong. Allamerican Bertie, winner of the Delaware Oaks (gr. III) and runner-up in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I), shot to the front, but was soon engaged by Imperial Gesture through an opening quarter in :23.67 over a fast, but very dull, track. "I was going to lay second for as long as I could," Bailey said. "But she's very big and strong, and once she gets into a rhythm, she just takes you through there. She has such a long stride and does things without any effort."

The pair quickly distanced themselves from the pack with a torrid second quarter in :22.36. After a half in a quick :46.03, Imperial Gesture began to edge away slightly.

Around the turn, she switched to another gear and quickly sailed clear of her pursuer. With Bailey sitting chilly on her, and the others still a long way back, the daughter of Langfuhr already looked like she was home free, even though she hadn't even reached the quarter pole. Then came the deep breath, which also let the air out of Albertrani for an instant, and took Bailey completely by surprise.

"I was going to let her take one more breath, but (Allamerican Bertie) was on her again, so I had to get into her, and she just went right on again. She didn't duck from anything. She knew what she was doing."

As Bailey said to Albertrani after the race, "I guess she figured she needed a deep breath."

Albertrani did say Imperial Gesture has a tendency to shy away from things. "Sometimes in her works, when she comes past the wire, she'll see something and try to duck from it. It's almost like she'll take a breath from being startled. So, she might have seen something on the track."

Whatever Imperial Gesture did, and why, really didn't matter in the end. As soon as Bailey got her back running, she bounded away from Allamerican Bertie again. Summer Colony finally got rolling, but had way too much ground to make up. Mandy's Gold proved her last-to-first victory in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) was no fluke, as she came charging late to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Summer Colony. The final time was 1:50.63, with the winner paying $5.60 as the 9-5 second choice.

At first, it looked as if Imperial Gesture was going to be one of those hard-luck horses following a bumper car trip in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I)--in which she was slammed into badly several times after the break--and a subsequent bout with colic that knocked her out. But Albertrani gave her all the time she needed to put her weight back on, and she rewarded him by storming back with three straight impressive victories.

"It's amazing the way she's improved over the last couple of months. She's peaking right now, and hopefully we can keep her this way for another three weeks," said Albertrani, who, like Imperial Gesture, no doubt is breathing a lot easier these days.


(Chart, Equibase)