The next battle for Surfside, which comes not on the racetrack but at the ballot box, will likely prove more difficult than did her facile win in the Nov. 24 Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. Having left a string of mostly older males in her wake in the Clark, the filly now faces just one foe, Jostle, for the crown of best 3-year-old filly, in what will likely be a photo finish.
An Overbrook Farm homebred, Surfside was meant to be special from the beginning. By Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew out of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) victor and champion Flanders, the imposing Surfside tipped her hand at two with grade I triumphs in the Frizette and Hollywood Starlet Stakes.
At three, a trio of graded triumphs including grade I scores in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks set her up for a run against the boys in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Her conditioner, D. Wayne Lukas, specializes in such cross-gender challenges. However, she faltered in the April contest and underwent ankle surgery, which sidelined her until October.
Jostle, meanwhile, bloomed as spring turned to summer and annexed the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) at Pimlico, then stepped up to score daylight wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), the Alabama (gr. I), and the Cotillion Handicap (gr. II).
Lukas, always keen to battle for supremacy, brought Surfside back in Keeneland's Raven Run Stakes with both eyes focused on the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) three weeks later. A touch short, the 16.3-hand filly could manage only runner-up finishes in both, making it imperative she try the boys in the $445,600 Clark to gain back luster.
"My selling point here, and I did have to sell this race to the Overbrook family, was 'Don't look back; look ahead,' " said Lukas. "I thought we'd get a better race out of her in the Clark than we did Breeders' Cup Day. And if Overbrook thought a better race would win the Eclipse Award, I urged them to try this."
The Clark couldn't have set up any better for the filly. Aside from fellow 3-year-olds Aptitude and Pine Dance, this was a field of horses consisting of minor stakes winners and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) also-rans. In addition, Surfside possessed the only gate speed, which rider Pat Day used to perfection, clearing the field quickly from the seven hole to put the rest of them behind the eight-ball.
Surfside ran uncontested on a slow, two-length advantage for nearly all of the nine furlongs. Guided Tour, coming off a 12th-place in the Classic, was the only one to hint at a threat, closing to 1 1/2 lengths as they straightened for home. But Surfside was always best, drawing off by four lengths on the line in a pokey 1:48.75. Aptitude, compromised by the lack of speed up front and the nine furlongs, beat just one home.
"I had the best position in the race saving ground," said his jockey, Victor Espinoza. "I thought I was going to be there, but when I asked him to pick it up, I had no horse. He didn't feel like running today."
It may not have mattered. "She did it so easily," Lukas enthused. "Once Pat gets out there and has something to work with, he's awful tough to run by. I was wondering who was going to make the move, and no one did. I don't have a vote, but this race made a tremendous statement. That wasn't a dimpled ballot today. It went all the way through.
"The beauty contest was hers today too. She won the post parade--her hair was tight, she was slick, and she walked around there with great poise. Once in awhile you'll get a Lady's Secret or a Serena's Song, who were smaller fillies. But when you take on the colts you should have big, imposing fillies like Winning Colors and Surfside. They should have a head like a princess (which Surfside doesn't have), a butt like a washer woman, and a walk like a hooker. That's the kind of filly it takes to beat the colts."
Lukas will be taking both Surfside, who has now earned $1,824,987, and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain back to California, but not to race against one another. He's looking at the La Canada series at Santa Anita, and beyond. "We think Surfside's one of the ones, and she will run in all the top races, starting in the west and ending at Saratoga and Belmont. We might try colts again. You know me--I wouldn't mind having another Horse of the Year. If we feel we're competitive in the handicap division, we won't be afraid."
But first this year, and the ballot for 3-year-old filly supremacy.
)Continued. . . .