Even-money favorite Pine Island edged past Teammate in the final sixteenth of a mile and went on to post a measured one-length win in the $250,000 Gazelle (gr. IT) for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park Saturday.
Ridden by Javier Castellano, the Shug McGaughey-trained Pine Island added the 1 1/8-mile event to a record that includes a win in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (gr. I) in her last start Aug. 19 at Saratoga, as well as second-place finishes in Belmont's Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) and the Mother Goose (gr. I).
"She hasn't missed a beat since the Alabama," said McGaughey. "I can't say I wasn't nervous bringing her back in three weeks off two mile and a quarter races. We were very pleased with her today. She's an old, hard-running, big, old, country kind of horse and she always gives her all. She's run six races, has four wins and two of them are grade ones."
McGaughey said he was undecided about Pine Island's next start.
"We'll sit and watch her," he said. "I might be more inclined to wait for the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 4). I'll just have to let her tell me. My thinking of coming back here was trying to hook Bushfire off a layoff."
The Phipps Stable homebred daughter of Arch
--Matlacha Pass (Seeking the Gold
) completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48 4/5 on a track labeled fast.
Pine Island was next-to-last early in the six-horse field as three-time grade I winner Bushfire, under Edgar Prado, set fast fractions of :23 4/5, :46 4/5 and 1:10 3/5. Teammate, who tracked the leader all the way for Cornelio Velasquez, challenged on the outside on the turn and snatched the lead as the field set down for the stretch run. Pine Island, who made up much ground on the turn, ranged into contention with more than a furlong to run and proved best under encouragement.
"She stumbled in the first jump, (but) nothing bothers the filly," said Castellano. "She's getting better and better. Today, right at the three-eighths pole, she was right behind the speed horses. When I asked her at the quarter-pole –vrrrrroom!"
Pine Island has four wins and two seconds in six lifetime efforts with earnings of $566,800.
Teammate held second after drawing clear mid-stretch. It was nine lengths back to third-place finisher Last Romance, ridden by John Velazquez. Unbridled Belle, Bushfire, and Wild Fit trailed.
"My filly ran real big today," Velasquez said of the runner-up. "The filly that beat me is real good. At the top of the stretch I had a lot of horse, and my filly ran good down the stretch. But the winner was too good."
The victory catapulted Pine Island into to mix for the division lead, which Bushfire clearly held earlier this year with grade I wins in the Ashland, Acorn and Mother Goose.
Bushfire was making her first start since winning the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose on July 1.
"She got a little tired," said Bushfire's trainer, Eddie Kenneally. "Edgar (Prado) said she handled everything fine. We'll see how she comes out and make a decision."
Pine Island paid $4.10, $2.60, and $2.10. Teammate, who ran second to Pine Island in the Alabama as well, returned $4.80 and $3.90. Last Romance was $4.90 to show.