She is only 4 and just now hitting the double-digit mark in career starts. But in the time Valadorna has been in trainer Mark Casse's barn, she has already provided her connections an ample range of emotions.
In her third career start, she came within three-quarters of a length of winning a Breeders' Cup race. As the Stonestreet Stables homebred was preparing for a start in the 2017 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), she had her progress derailed when she suffered a condylar fracture in her left hind.
When the daughter of Curlin finished a tiring sixth in her season debut in the Jan. 28 Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3), it marked the first time she had been worse than third in nine starts. Fittingly enough, she followed a career-low finish by posting an all-time best result April 20 when she inched clear in the final stages of the $100,000 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes (G3) at Keeneland to earn her first graded stakes win.
"She's a barn favorite. We feel like we've had her for so long through some trials and tribulations," said David Carroll, assistant to Casse. "But (Stonestreet) has allowed us to give her a chance to develop and not get down on her, and everything came together today."
It was over the Keeneland track nearly two years ago that Valadorna's connections got a real sense of what she could be if all her stars aligned.
After running second in her debut at Churchill Downs in September of 2016, the bay filly broke her maiden by six lengths going 1 1/16 miles over the Lexington oval that October, an effort that emboldened her crew to give her a shot in that year's 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
She finished second to eventual divisional champion Champagne Room that day and was on track for a start in the Kentucky Oaks her sophomore year before suffering her injury in an April workout. Since returning to the races in November with a runner-up effort in an optional-claiming allowance test at Churchill Downs, she has teased of greater potential with a handy victory in the Tiffany Lass Stakes in December—but also caused some head-scratching with a lackluster outing at Sam Houston.
"Disappointing race at Sam Houston … just wasn't her day," Carroll said. "We shipped her back up here. She settled in beautifully, and she just blossomed.
"My wife (Kim) gallops her every day and knows her inside and out, and she's just been bragging about her. She's been on her toes, she's been sharper—sharper around the barn, a great look to her coat, just all the things you look for in a horse. She ran to her looks and the way she trained."
Sent off at 3-1 odds in the 12-horse Doubledogdare field, Valadorna was a bit farther back than usual as she rated in the middle of the track in seventh, while Jenda's Agenda pushed Apologynotaccepted through fractions of :23.39 and :46.77 down the backstretch.
Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.'s body language was one of confidence when he let Valadorna advance four wide around the far turn and come after Apologynotaccepted in the stretch. Valadorna got her head in front about a handful of strides before the wire, stretching that out to three-quarters of a length. Apologynotaccepted held for second over Song of Spring in third.
"The two fillies to my inside were pretty cranked up going into the (starting) gate. I thought if I let (Valadorna) leave there running, she'd get us in a good spot," Hernandez said. "She did the rest for us. All the credit goes to Mark (Casse) and David (Carroll) and the whole Casse team for giving us enough horse to get a shot (at a win)."
Valadorna covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.87 over a track rated fast. Well Humored, the 2-1 favorite, never got involved and finished ninth. Jenda's Agenda faded to 11th.
"Nothing went right today," said Jose Ortiz, jockey for Well Humored. "She broke a little flat-footed, and I was wide all the way out there. Not really an excuse—the winner was very wide all the way. (Well Humored) was kind of tough in the post parade. She wasn't happy today; I don't know what happened."
Bred in Kentucky out of the Yes It's True mare Goldfield, Valadorna improved her record to five wins from 10 starts with $558,920 in earnings.
"We never lost faith in her," Carroll said. "She's a graded stakes winner now, and hopefully it's onward and upward. She's a big filly, and I think it's just taken this long for her to get it all together. We're just so proud of her."