Monmouth Park Race Report: Heartwarming Victory

Published in the July 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
If it's true that there's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man, then trainer Shug McGaughey must have been feeling just fine after Helen C. Alexander, D. D. Matz, and Helen K. Groves' Atelier handed him his fifth victory in the $300,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Monmouth Park on June 29.

McGaughey, 51, is recovering from triple bypass heart surgery performed on June 13 and did not make the trip to Oceanport, N.J., to see Atelier, a 5-year-old daughter of Deputy Minister, upset both Edward P. Evans' favored Summer Colony and The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Spain, the current all-time winningest female, in the 1 1/8-mile test.

"This should get Shug's blood flowing a little better," said assistant trainer Buzz Tenney after Atelier placed her name alongside McGaughey's other Molly Pitcher winners--Inside Information, Versailles Treaty, Personal Ensign, and Rare Blend.

Atelier had not found the winner's circle since last September, when she was put up via a disqualification in an allowance at Belmont Park. This year, she started only three times prior to the Molly Pitcher, and had most recently been beaten nearly 18 lengths in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) on May 18. Accordingly, she was dispatched at 8-1 in the compact Molly Pitcher field.

Under Monmouth's leading rider Eibar Coa, Atelier broke from the fence and allowed Spain, who is in foal to Storm Cat, to take the lead heading into the first turn. Coa and his mount took charge of the situation after Spain left the rail open, and Atelier spurted to the front heading into the backstretch. Once Spain surrendered her position, she never seemed interested, though jockey Jorge Chavez tried his best to motivate her.

Atelier's only serious challenge came from Summer Colony, who lagged behind early and then made a three-wide run entering the stretch. Her bid wasn't good enough, however, and she came up a length short. Summer Colony's rider was John Velazquez. Spain was third, six lengths ahead of Southern Fiction and Extend. The final time was 1:48.63.

"She's not a big, strong, or robust filly, so we space her races out," said Tenney of Atelier. "She also likes to do things her own way, so I told Eibar (Coa) don't fight her, or she'll resent it. Going to the lead like she did really isn't her style, but when I saw how easily she was moving down the backstretch, I knew she'd be tough to catch."

Tenney said Atelier's defeat in the Shuvee was puzzling, and that she ran more to her ability in the Molly Pitcher.

"I would think that maybe the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I, Aug. 23 at Saratoga) would be her next major goal," he said. "After that, one or two before the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I, Oct. 26)."

Atelier has now won nine of 20 starts and $724,734.

"I had a perfect trip but I didn't have a horse today," said Chavez concerning Spain. "She did everything she could, and she tried hard but I guess it wasn't her day."

D. Wayne Lukas said he thought that keeping Spain in training, despite her condition, was an idea by The Thoroughbred Corp. to add to her earnings record, which now stands at $3,540,542, and perhaps make her record a bit tougher to break.

"I'm just putting words into mouths, but I think they (The Thoroughbred Corp.) want to make that record so that it stands a little while," he said. But, Lukas added, he wasn't sure how long Spain would keep racing after her Molly Pitcher defeat. bO

Ocean Breezes
Mid-week entries remain lackluster at Monmouth despite a full backstretch, a situation caused in part by a virus that's making the rounds, according to vice president Bob Kulina. "The annual virus is stronger this year than last," said Kulina. Overall, attendance and total handle are down 6% through the first full month of the meet...The Molly Pitcher was the first leg of the new NTRA Pick Three, televised by CBS, which was followed by Mr. Mellon ($6.80), in the Arlington Classic (gr. IIT) and by Nonsuch Bay ($7) in the Mother Goose (gr. I) at Belmont. The bet paid $277.60; $179,606 was wagered nationwide. By Linda Dougherty

(Chart, Equibase)