There were three grade 1 winners in the 10-horse lineup for the March 10 Hillsborough Stakes (G2T). But in the eventful final strides of the 1 1/8-miles race, it was the filly who has quietly become one of the most honest runners in her barn who ended up outclassing all her high-level rivals.
Fourstar Crook, the 'other' Chad Brown-trained contender in Saturday's $225,000 test over the Tampa Bay Downs course, launched herself figuratively and literally toward the forefront of the turf female division when she rallied widest of all down the lane to edge Proctor's Ledge by a head in her seasonal debut.
The Hillsborough wrangled a solid field, with top-level winners La Coronel, Daddys Lil Darling, and Off Limits— stablemate to Fourstar Crook—all commanding high regard. Fourstar Crook's best graded outing prior to Saturday was a victory in the Dr. James Penny Memorial Stakes (G3T) at Parx Racing July 4, but the New York-bred daughter of Freud had also won nine of her last 11 races heading into the Hillsborough.
In her first start since finishing third in the Oct. 15 E.P. Taylor Stakes (G1T) at Woodbine, Fourstar Crook was able to take her consistent form to its best level yet. As long shots Dynatail and Lovely Loyree were 1-2 through opening fractions of :24.26 and :49.45, Fourstar Crook was saving ground on the rail third from last under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
When Proctor's Ledge advanced from fourth and came at the twosome up front with a three-wide bid on the far turn, Fourstar Crook began picking up the pace herself. With Proctor's Ledge trying to maintain her lead as La Coronel angled inside, Fourstar Crook got her 6-year-old legs rolling on the far outside to just get up in time.
"She prefers firm turf, and it was soft (when she finished third in the E. P. Taylor), so I thought that was a good effort," Brown said of Fourstar Crook. "She's a good mare and very consistent. She ran terrific today."
Owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and Gary Aisquith, Fourstar Crook covered the distance in 1:48.43 over a course rated firm to reward backers who sent her off at 7-2 odds.
"She broke so good, and I just stayed on the rail to save all the ground I could, because I knew I had to have a good trip to beat this field," Ortiz said. "She is getting better and better every time. I just saved ground, and when I tipped her out, she gave me a good kick in the end. When we got to the eighth pole, I didn't know if we were going to get there, but I just kept riding my horse hard and she got the job done."
Proctor's Ledge held for second by three-quarters of a length over La Coronel but had to survive an objection. Jockey Julien Leparoux, aboard fourth-place finisher Daddys Lil Darling, claimed foul after the runner-up appeared to bear out in the lane under left-handed urging from Jose Ortiz. Off Limits, the 2-1 favorite, was fifth.
Bred by Kathleen Feron out of the D'Accord mare Avril a Portugal, Fourstar Crook now boasts 10 wins from 15 starts—including six stakes victories—with earnings of $813,166. She was purchased by Dubb for $110,000 out of the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale.
Video: Hillsborough S. (G2T)
With Julien Leparoux in the irons, Andina Del Sur rated ninth in the 11-horse field through fractions of :23.62 and :48.74. There was some drama when early pacesetter Jehozacat lunged out leaving the first turn and went extremely wide down the backside before being eased, but Andina Del Sur was steady in her progression, racing three-wide and then moving up on the far turn.
"She's been knocking at the door her last couple of races and we noticed after her races that she has really been galloping out strong," winning trainer Tom Albertrani said. "Her last race, she was maybe a little bit too keen for her own good, but today Julien had her relaxed and in the right spot and got the right trip."
Video: Florida Oaks (G3T)
Earlier on the Tampa Bay Downs card, graded stakes winner War Story got back in the win column with a 5 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes. The 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding was making his first start since finishing tenth in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Jan. 27, and the victory halted a four-race losing skid.