Both Lady Marlboro, ridden by Javier Castellano, and Golden Velvet, with Eibar Coa aboard, earned their first graded stakes wins in the one-turn mile event for older fillies and mares. Favored Mini Sermon, who had defeated Lady Marlboro and Golden Velvet in the Top Flight Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Nov. 23, finished third after leading to mid-stretch.
Mini Sermon, guided by John Velazquez, and Lady Marlboro dictated a sensible pace in the five-horse field. Lady Marlboro, breaking from the rail, led most of the opening quarter mile in :23.62 before Mini Sermon, who left from the far outside, gained a half-length advantage while recording :46.10 and 1:11.04 splits. With a quarter-mile to run, Lady Marlboro fell back to third along the inside as Golden Velvet made a three-wide bid in upper stretch. Mini Sermon had the lead and seemed to be running comfortably, but she did not respond to urging from Velazquez at the furlong pole as Golden Velvet swept to the lead and appeared headed for victory. The determined Lady Marlboro, however, rallied back along the inside and slipped past Mini Sermon. Lady Marlboro appeared to put her nose in front in the final two strides but had to settle for a draw in the head bob at the wire.
“I really thought when we got around them that (Golden Velvet) was going to win easy, but that filly is really game and my filly never really exploded," Coa said. "She just sort of floated out there. She did enough to get by them but not enough to get away from them. When we got back I saw it was taking so long, and I started thinking ‘I’ll take a dead-heat right now.’ I thought we had lost for sure.”
The final time was 1:37.21 on a fast track.
James Jerkens trains Lady Marlboro, a 4-year-old filly by Smoke Glacken out of the Doc's Leader mare Lady Doc owned by Susan and John Moore. The bay demonstrated her gameness for Castellano when she dug in along the rail before losing by a nose in the Top Flight. Bred in Kentucky by Hopewell Investments, Lady Marlboro owns a 3-3-3 record in 11 lifetime starts with earnings of $231,524. Lady Marlboro was a $65,000 Keeneland September yearling sale in 2005.
“(Lady Marlboro) handled the track good today," Castellano said. "She was in a tough position on the rail and did not like it there, but I had no chance to move. She ran good and tight. She has a big heart, this filly ... very competitive. She gave me 110 percent today."
Added Jerkens: “I really thought (Lady Marlboro) got in front near the finish. She’s really come around in her last three starts now. I’m not sure where we go from here except that she’s better going one-turn rather than two."
Kiaran McLaughlin saddled the Darley Stable homebred Golden Velvet, a 5-year-old Seeking the Gold mare out of the dam Caress, by Storm Cat. The dark bay began her career in France and also raced in Dubai for Saeed bin Suroor before transferring to the U.S. last fall. She won a one-mile allowance/claiming race at Belmont Park by 6 1/2 lengths in her American debut Oct. 18 prior to her third-place effort in the Top Flight. Golden Velvet owns a 3-2-3 mark in 11 lifetime starts with earnings of $132,909.
“She ran all right in one try on dirt in Dubai and has done very well in her three starts here," McLaughlin noted. "Right after the finish I was on the phone to Jimmy Bell (Darley racing manager in Kentucky) and I frankly thought we got beat, so we’ll be glad to settle for the dead-heat."
The winning connections split a purse of $80,000.
Lady Marlboro carried 116 pounds to victory and paid $3.80, $3.80 and $2.40. Golden Velvet, under 115, returned $3.40, $3.20 and $2.20. The 118-pound high weight Mini Sermon, looking for back-to-back graded wins for trainer Todd Pletcher, was $2.10 to show.
Silver Knockers, who faded after stalking the pace, and Argentina-bred Potra Clasica trailed. Cindy's Mom scratched.