Wayne Catalano uttered one word after Gary Barber, Baccari Racing Stable, and Chester Prince's Salty slipped up the rail and ran down Farrell May 4 in the final furlong of the $350,000 La Troienne Stakes presented by Twinspires.com (G1) at Churchill Downs.
For as heartily as trainer Mark Casse pursued top-level glory with Salty, a 4-year-old Quality Road filly whose grade 1 attempts were thrice thwarted by champion Abel Tasman, Catalano has also been in the hunt with Coffepot Stables' multiple grade 2 winner Farrell—and found his daughter of Malibu Moon on the losing end by 1 3/4 lengths after showing the way in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile test.
Abel Tasman made her season debut and first start since a runner-up finish in the Nov. 3 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) but had to settle for fourth after racing wide throughout under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
It was the first grade 1 win for Salty and a rebound from fifth in the April 7 Madison Stakes (G1) going seven furlongs at Keeneland. Last year, Salty won the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) off her maiden score and came in fifth behind the Bob Baffert-trained Abel Tasman in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) before a runner-up finish to that rival in the Acorn Stakes (G1) and a third behind her in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).
"She's just an extremely talented filly, as I've said a few times," Casse said of Salty. "She's gotten unlucky before. Today everything worked out well for her. I think (jockey) Tyler (Gaffalione) is the up-and-coming star, as does Gary Barber. We've kind of stuck with Tyler. He's gone everywhere with her, and it's paid off because he knows her so well. After the last race, he was so disappointed. He said, 'We're going to win a grade 1,' and I said, 'I know we will.' We have faith, and he rode a great race today."
Salty was cross-entered in the May 5 Humana Distaff Stakes (G1) but scratched from that seven-furlong race to run against five rivals in the 1 1/16-mile La Troienne.
"I thought, and Gary did as well, if there was ever a time to take on Abel Tasman, it was today," Casse said. "I have the utmost respect for her ... (but) I don't really believe they're that far apart. If you watch (last year's campaign) early on, a couple times Abel Tasman had a great trip and we didn't, and it was fairly close. And this filly's better than she's ever been.
"If (Abel Tasman) beat us today, I wasn't going to ever try her again."
Salty chased Farrell early while racing in the three path, four lengths behind through a quarter in :24.70 and three lengths back as a half went in :48.86. She rallied strongly down the lane and shifted closer to the rail after three-quarters in 1:12.82. After a 1:37.40 mile, she edged past the leader in the final sixteenth to win in a final time of 1:43.78. Martini Glass completed the trifecta, 1 1/4 lengths back.
"We knew with the scratch of (speed horse) Apologynotaccepted that we were going to have to stay closer, and we did," Casse said. "The biggest thing with our filly is, last time she didn't switch leads till about 100 yards from the wire, and it probably cost her her last race, and it wasn't from lack of trying. Tyler knew from the beginning he wanted to get her to switch leads, and she did it well today and finished extremely strong."
Salty, who returned $10.40, $5, and $3.40 at odds of 4-1, was bred in Kentucky by Prince Farm and Chris Baccari's Seclusive Farm out of the Dixie Union mare Theycallmeladyluck. She improved her record to 4-2-2 from 11 starts, with earnings of $688,500. Baccari said Theycallmeladyluck has an American Pharoah yearling filly on the farm, recently delivered a filly by Into Mischief , and will be bred back to Medaglia d'Oro .
Jockey Channing Hill was satisfied with Farrell's effort off a seventh-place finish in the April 13 Apple Blossom Stakes (G1) at Oaklawn Park. The dark bay filly also finished behind Abel Tasman once before, when she was eased in the Kentucky Oaks and came home last of 14.
"At the top of the lane, I thought she was a winner," Hill said. "She ran so good. I give a lot of credit to the filly that won because she had to reel us in from the sixteenth pole, so that was quite a feat. I was just so proud of my filly, especially after the races she's bounced back from, and then come with a great effort here at Churchill ... she's a tremendous filly."
Where 3-5 choice Abel Tasman was concerned, Smith said the race did not set up for the four-time grade 1 winner.
"She made a nice move around the turn and just got tired through the lane," he explained. "It was just the way the race set up. I really wish they wouldn't have scratched out of there. The other pace scratched out, and it really just turned the race into a sprint for home. ... Being the first race back, I didn't want to get very aggressive with her early and have her get really tired late, so I was just gambling, hoping I was a whole lot the best, and those are some nice fillies. I underestimated them a little bit.
"In saying that, though, she got a lot out of the race, and she should come back very well. That race didn't set up at all for her."