Philadelphia Park Report: A Mystic Lady

Published in the Oct. 13 issue of The Blood-Horse
If you looked up the definition of "road warrior" in the dictionary, you'd likely find a picture of Lee Lewis' chestnut filly Mystic Lady. Since November, the 3-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch has run at 11 different racetracks--never stringing together two consecutive starts in one place--and racked up six victories along the way (one against colts).

By plane or by van, Mystic Lady has logged more miles than most Thoroughbreds the last 12 months. "She handles traveling great, as you can see," said trainer Mark Hennig. "And she can handle just about any surface. The only clunker she threw in was in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She just spun her wheels at Churchill Downs, but otherwise she's just been tremendous."

Mystic Lady's latest excursion was a 200-mile round trip from Belmont Park to Philadelphia Park, where she went on Oct. 6 for the 33rd running of the $250,000 Cotillion Handicap (gr. II). The starting highweight at 121 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile race, she was carrying just one pound more than in her most recent victory, the $194,000 Boiling Springs Handicap at Meadowlands. Hennig tabbed jockey Eibar Coa, who'd ridden her in the Boiling Springs, for the Cotillion ride.

Facing Mystic Lady was Fox Hill Farm's Zonk, who'd beaten her a length in the Delaware Oaks (gr. III) on July 21. That day, Mystic Lady broke from the 11-hole and raced wide; though she made the lead late, she couldn't hold off Zonk. Conditions in the Cotillion were more favorable for Mystic Lady, however, as she drew post five and figured to be the main speed.

As soon as starter Rusty Downes sprang the latch, Mystic Lady burst from the gate as if someone had given her a hotfoot. In the first few strides, she quickly opened up a length on the field. Zonk, a stalker, and The Vinery's Celtic Melody, another stalker, made half-hearted attempts to race with her early, but Coa cleared them and tucked down on the rail. She was allowed to cruise along with Zonk and Celtic Melody racing in closest pursuit through fractions of :23.90, :47.89, and 1:12.16. The Philadelphia strip had been kind to front-runners all day after early morning rains, and Mystic Lady kicked it up a notch around the far turn, extending her lead to a 1 1/2 lengths.

Under confident handling, Mystic Lady swept into the stretch with an ever-widening lead, and stormed home four lengths in front, getting the trip in 1:43.86. Zonk held second under Mike McCarthy, 5 1/4 lengths in front of Celtic Melody and C.C. Lopez.

A $100,000 purchase at the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale, Mystic Lady has now won eight times from 15 starts and earned $790,090.

"Eibar (Coa) has always gotten a lot of run out of her," said Hennig. "We were concerned about Celtic Melody, but we were able to dictate the pace. After every race, I think I'm going to call it a year with her, but she keeps getting better. If she runs again, it will probably be in the Honey Bee Handicap (gr. III) at Meadowlands (on Nov. 2), and we might think about the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) if things fall apart in that division.

"She does it all--she's quickly becoming one of my favorites," said Hennig. "She isn't really a big filly, but she's sensible. She's traveled all over and handled it well."

Zonk's trainer John Servis, who was shooting for his second straight Cotillion, having won last year with Fox Hill's Jostle, said, "The winner just had a perfect trip. My filly ran good, and we could meet again in the Honey Bee."