The fast-improving Honey Rider slid off the rail in upper stretch to reach the front, then outfought the late charging Ellieonthemarch for a half-length victory in the $150,000 Orchid Handicap (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares on the Gulfstream Park turf Saturday.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Honey Ryder enjoyed a dream trip from her inside starting post in the 1 1/2-mile event. Able to settle just behind a sensible pace while saving ground every step of the way, she edged between horses to challenge the surprising and tenacious Pretty Jane, ridden by Brice Blanc. Honey Ryder won that dispute inside the eighth pole and was just strong enough to hold off Ellieonthemarch, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez. The final time was 2:27 on a firm course in spite of earlier rain.
"I just wanted to be as close as I could without getting too far behind," Velazquez said. "She did what I wanted her to do."
A 4-year-old gray/roan filly by Lasting Approval, the Todd Pletcher-trained Honey Ryder won her first graded stakes in her last start, the Very One (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream March 6, by a neck over Briviesca.
"We talked about getting a distance with this filly when she was a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old," Pletcher said, "and that she might eventually develop into a good distance filly. This was one of those rare situations where we turned out to be right."
The British-bred Briviesca, the 3-2 favorite in the Orchid, proved difficult for jockey Jerry Bailey to handle on the clubhouse turn when she rushed the leaders while racing four wide. She continued to travel wide and eventually finished up fourth without challenging.
Pretty Jane, pressed honestly by the quick-breaking Snowdrops, provided the pace in the seven-horse field, clicking off modest fractions of :25 2/5, :50 4/5, 1:15 3/5, 1:39 3/5 and 2:03 2/5.
Honey Ryder's fifth win in 16 career starts was worth $90,000 to owner Glencrest Farm and pushed her lifetime earnings to $299,830.
Wimborne Farm bred the winning filly, produced by the Affirmed mare Cuando Quiere, in Kentucky. She was a $70,000 sale in November 2002.
The second choice, Honey Ryder paid $6.60, $4.20 and $3. Ellieonthemarch, who stumbled at the break and steadied severely on the first turn, ran gamely to just miss while returning $10 and $5.80 as part of a $65.80 exacta. Pretty Jane was worth $5.40 to show.
After Briviesca came Snowdrops, Coquinerie and Stormin' Daina.