The promise Stronger Than Ever hinted at in her first two starts came to fruition during her 3-year-old debut Jan. 13, when the daughter of Congrats fought past even-money favorite Wonder Gadot in deep stretch to take the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes by a neck at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
While the betting public didn't hold much faith in Stronger Than Ever, sending her off at 33-1 heading into Saturday's one-mile and 70-yard test, the Ken McPeek-trained filly actually demonstrated a fair amount of ability in her young career.
After breaking her maiden first time out at Churchill Downs in September, Stronger Than Ever came back to take a one-mile allowance race at Keeneland by 2 1/2 lengths—earning herself a step up into stakes company for her next couple of outings.
The first couple of dives into deeper water didn't go as planned. Stronger Than Ever finished seventh in the Nov. 25 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) and third in the Dec. 17 Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park. But with jockey Florent Geroux in the irons for the first time and stout early fractions to work with, Stronger Than Ever got the ideal setup for her late-running style in the Silverbulletday, sitting last of eight through the opening half-mile before making her bid three-wide on the far turn and sinking her hooks into Wonder Gadot, who took command just past the three-eighths pole.
"I think she had run better than her odds. She just needed the right trip and the right set up for her," Geroux said. "There was a lot of speed and I just took my time, saved as much ground as I could, and all those horses came back to me.
"I was watching up in front and it looked like they were going an honest pace. So I let them come back to me."
Wonder Gadot earned her favoritism off the strength of her 3 3/4-length win in the Dec. 2 Demoiselle Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack, and impressed her connections enough that they cross-entered her in Saturday's Lecomte Stakes (G3) against males.
The daughter of Medgalia d'Oro had her hands full with her own sex during her sophomore debut, chasing longshot Shes Our Fastest through opening fractions of :23.57 and :47.43 for a half-mile—a pace that likely took its toll. She couldn't turn back the determined strides Stronger Than Even unleashed in the final furlong, en route to covering the distance in 1:44.28 over a fast track.
"I thought she ran well, we just got unlucky," said Mark Casse, trainer of Wonder Gadot. "She fought on and she probably wants a little more ground where she doesn't have to be so aggressive early. It'll be interesting because I think the time will end up being fairly good. I've got to think about (running in the grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Feb. 17), but probably."
Owned by Fern Circle Stables, Stronger Than Ever improved her record to three wins from five starts with earnings of $174,846. She also picked up 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, moving her into 11th on the list for the May 4 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) field. The Silverbulletday awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.
Stronger Than Ever was purchased by Fern Circle Stables for $310,000 from the Woods Edge Farm consignment to the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale and was bred in Kentucky by J. Stuart, P. Bance, J. Amling, and C. Noell out of the Broken Vow mare Broken Silence.
Saturday's stakes-laden card also saw Brad Grady and Carl Moore's Mom's On Strike make her third consecutive trip to the winner's circle and survive a trainer's objection to win the $75,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes, while the venerable Yockey's Warrior added another victory over the Fair Grounds main track to his resume when he took the $75,000 Duncan F. Kenner Memorial Stakes on Saturday afternoon by 2 1/4 lengths under a hand ride by jockey Miguel Mena.
Canadian invader Tower of Texas captured the $125,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap going 1 1/16 miles on the turf, and Cedartown bested graded stakes winner Scuba to prevail in the $75,000 Louisiana Stakes.