If Gold Mark Farm’s Elusive Lady can continue the forward progress she demonstrated with a runner-up effort in the March 15 Florida Oaks (gr. III), the $150,000 Comely Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct should be all hers April 12. The Van Nistelrooyfilly is the only graded stakes winner in a six horse field, and backs up to the one-mile distance over which she won the Tempted Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last October.
Trainer John Kimmel is hoping the filly’s post position – number one – does not interfere with her performance as it did in the Jan. 12 Old Hat Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream. In that effort, the filly was squeezed back and attempted to bolt to the left where the temporary rail guided the runners out of the chute. She finished last in the field of nine, a shocker considering her solid runner-up effort in the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) going into the Old Hat.
“She had a bad experience in the Old Hat; she had a tough time with the kickback and tried to bolt, and it really comes down to a throw-out performance,” Kimmel said. “We were trying to get her ready for some longer races but she came up with a bruise in her foot and missed some training going into the Florida Oaks. I think she got a little tired in her last race, but it should benefit her. When you look at it, she hadn’t had a (good) race since the Demoiselle, and there’s only so much we can do in the morning. We’re hoping she’s spot on, and with only six horses in the field she should find a way to stay out of the kickback.”
But two impressive fillies, both seeking their first graded earnings, may deny Elusive Lady of her bid for grade II status.
The first, Gold Square’s Tiznow filly Lady Chace, sat a length off a scorching pace of :22.12 and :44.62, then put away six rivals to win an entry-level allowance by 6 ½ lengths at Gulfstream March 14. It was her first start of 2008 for trainer Todd Pletcher after she broke her maiden at Monmouth Park last summer and finished sixth in the Schuylerville (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course.
The second filly, Susan and John Moore’s Gone Westrunner Zaftig, was in close attendance to a much slower pace in a seven furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Feb. 23. She stalked calmer fractions of :22.69 and :46.28 before blowing away 10 maiden foes by 8 ¾ lengths.
By winning so impressively, Zaftig put memories of her fifth-place debut here last fall in the rear-view mirror for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
“We were really crushed when she lost her first start,” Jerkens said. “She had trained phenomenally before the race and never showed any problem at the gate. The day she ran, she acted so bad behind the gate and we couldn’t figure out why.”
Four months between starts may have helped Zaftig with some maturity issues; she seemed a much more focused horse when she won at Gulfstream February 23.
“I really liked the way she finished up,” Jerkens said of the final furlong in 12 seconds. “When she switched leads, it was like she had another gear.”
Although Zaftig got past her maiden race with flying colors, her task will be a bit more difficult Saturday as she stretches out to a mile for the first time with only two races under her belt, the fewest of any Comely starter.
“It’s always tough to go up in class and distance at the same time, especially when some of the other horses have been a mile before,” Jerkens said.
Other starters with experience at longer distances include Zayat Stables’ Precise End filly Sherine, a winner of the Dec. 2 East View at a mile and a sixteenth over the inner track for trainer Anthony Dutrow, and Darlene Bilinski and Richard Fields’ Love Co, a daughter of Not For Love who has multiple wins past a mile with a maiden special weight and overnight stakes win around two turns on the inner track for trainer Gary Contessa.
Contessa’s other Comely starter, Dennis Narlinger’s More Than Ready filly Ready for Fortune, has never raced beyond six furlongs and exits a second-place finish in the Cicada Stakes last month.
$150,000 Comely Stakes (gr. II, race 9, approximate post 4:53 p.m. EDT), one mile for 3-year-old fillies, dirt
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Elusive Lady, 122, Cornelio Velasquez
2. Sherine, 118, Alan Garcia
3. Love Co, 120, Rajiv Maragh
4. Lady Chace, 116, Michael Luzzi
5. Zaftig, 116, Ramon Dominguez
6. Ready for Fortune, 118, Mario Pino