Watching Sadler's Joy is never a relaxing outing for his connections.
With his late-running style, the 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy inspires a fair amount of nail-biting in the wait to see if his trademark surge delivers him to the front in time. His season debut in the March 3 $200,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2T) at Gulfstream Park proved a similar angst-ridden affair but one that produced a joyous result as the chestnut runner came from the clouds to best One Go All Go by three-quarters of a length.
"I'm stressed out," winning trainer Tom Albertrani joked. "These long races really take a toll on the trainers, I think."
Hindsight should have told Albertrani not to worry much. It was over the Gulfstream course in April where Sadler's Joy earned his first graded win, a head victory in the 1 1/2-mile Pan American Stakes (G2T). That would signal more to come from Sadler's Joy, who went on to take the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T) in August before ending his season with an admirable fourth-place finish in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T).
Such class against some of the best grass runners on the globe prompted the betting public to send Sadler's Joy off as the 9-5 favorite in the 12-horse Mac Diarmida field. As Sadler's Joy took up his customary spot at the rear of the procession under jockey Julien Leparoux, 12-1 shot One Go All Go was putting in an effort on the front end that nearly yielded an upset.
One Go All Go had a clear advantage as he clicked off an opening half-mile in :48.48 but faced some pressure from Oscar Nominated as he reached three quarters in 1:13.41. The former was still out front as he came around the far turn for the second time and entered the head of the lane, but a confident Leparoux had shaken the reins at Sadler's Joy and was enjoying the ride as that one swung out six-wide and took the lead in the final yards.
"He trained really well coming up to this spot," Albertrani said of Sadler's Joy. "We always have to sweat things out with him coming from the back all the time, but it worked out today."
Owned and bred by Woodslane Farm, Sadler's Joy has six wins and has only been worse than fourth once in 15 career starts. Out of the Dynaformer mare Dynaire, he bolstered his earnings to $1,343,288.
Video: Mac Diarmida S. (G2T)
Earlier on the card, the $150,000 The Very One Stakes (G3T) saw the transition to turf bring out the best in Stronach Stables' homebred filly Holy Helena. Already a Canadian classic winner, she added 'graded stakes winner' to her list of prefixes Saturday when she blew by favored pacesetter Daring Duchess just past the eighth pole to earn a 1 3/4-length victory.
Holy Helena's class had already shown itself on dirt and synthetic surfaces. She broke her maiden over the main track at Belmont Park in May and went on to take the Queen's Plate Stakes at Woodbine two starts later. After his filly wrapped up her sophomore season with a second-place run in the Ontario Derby (G3) in October, trainer Jimmy Jerkens opted to put the daughter of Ghostzapper on turf for her first two outings this year, and she rewarded her connections with back-to-back victories over the Gulfstream course.
"We always wanted to try (turf), and what better time than to try it here where you can train on it at Palm Meadows (Training Center)?" Jerkens said. "To win a race like the Queen's Plate in only her fourth start shows what kind of class she has. Being versatile like that ... she's just class from head to toe."
Similar to her first victory on turf, a one-mile allowance test Feb. 4, Holy Helena got a ground-saving, stalking trip Saturday. As Daring Duchess loped along on the front end past the wire for the first time and down the backstretch—putting up fractions of :24.28 and :49.73—Holy Helena bided her time in third under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Letting a 6-5 favorite have things all her own way normally doesn't end well for the competition, and Daring Duchess still had a one-length advantage to play with when she reached the top of the lane. After being shuffled back briefly to fifth as the pace quickened around the far turn, Holy Helena found racing room, tipped out in the stretch, and hit the afterburners when called upon to cover the 1 3/16-mile distance in 1:54.67 over a course rated firm.
"Irad told me he was going to let her settle and save some ground, and that's what he did," Jerkens said. "He rode her perfect. Once she got clear, she exploded. She had been training really well. She even got better since her last race. She got a little stronger in her hind quarters. I saw it today. Leaving the paddock, I was pretty confident. I was going to be pretty devastated if she didn't show up."
Sent off at 7-2 odds, Holy Helena returned $9.40, $4.40, and $3.40.
Bred in Ontario out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Grace, Holy Helena improved her record to five wins from eight starts with $889,333 in earnings. The only time she has been worse than second came when she finished eighth as the favorite behind winner Elate in the Aug. 19 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.