Continued from part 1POETRY IN MOTION
After cinching the saddle on Saudi Poetry in the paddock before the 27th running of the $333,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. III), trainer Bob Baffert suddenly realized it was the wrong saddle. And that was the last mishap of the day for the 4-year-old Storm Cat filly, who has taken quite nicely to the Churchill oval since early May.
The field for the day's co-feature came up exceptionally tough. Among the eight runners were grade I winners On a Soapbox, Dreams Gallore, and Secret Status, the latter of whom won the 2000 running of the Kentucky Oaks. Saudi Poetry is in the process of building her credentials. Hopes began on a lofty plateau when The Thoroughbred Corp. of Prince Ahmed Salman paid $1.7 million for her at the 1998 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.
Out of the Gone West mare Gone to Venus, and from the same female family of Baffert's two-time champion Silverbulletday, Saudi Poetry's first stanza was impressive as she broke her maiden when first asked at Santa Anita last year. After some game graded stakes tries, though, she was still eligible for an initial allowance condition last summer at Del Mar, and uncompetitive tries in the Lady's Secret and Bayakoa (both grade II) had Baffert thinking about a career change.
"When she wasn't coming around in the winter, I was thinking they might go ahead and breed her," Baffert said. "But The Thoroughbred Corp. has plenty of broodmares, and Richard Mulhall said to keep going with her."
Mulhall, the organization's racing manager, proved correct. Saudi Poetry defeated four of her Fleur de Lis rivals, Royal Fair, Dreams Gallore, Secret Status, and Bordelaise, in the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard in May. Victor Espinoza, who partnered her that day, flew back in from California for the mount.
Maltese Superb opened the nine-furlong test on top from the rail, with longshot Asher paying attention a length back. Dreams Gallore was an alert third, with Saudi Poetry in a perfect tracking spot through a half in :46.59. Secret Status, who left the gate the 9-5 favorite, dropped back early, as is her wont, some seven lengths in arrears. Maltese Superb held on gamely to the second turn, until Espinoza steered Saudi Poetry four wide and to the lead. Asher was holding well, and Secret Status began showing her kick, cruising past the others and taking aim at the leader. While she halved the margin, Secret Status could get no closer than 1 1/4 lengths to Saudi Poetry, who toted five pounds less than the favorite. Saudi Poetry stopped the timer in 1:49.27 over the fast track, and returned $14.40 as the fifth choice. Asher held third, a neck behind Secret Status.
"I had confidence, even if the bettors didn't," said Espinoza. "The trip set up very good for me. She broke sharply and I took her to the outside and sat behind the speed. I waited as long as I could before moving her because we opened up too early last time and almost got beat. We get along good together. She's got a big heart, and she's very professional."
Baffert chalks up Saudi Poetry's recent improvement to maturity. "When she got here from California she began changing, like a caterpillar changing into a beautiful butterfly," he said, trying out some poetry of his own. "She used to be high-strung, and her mind is beginning to relax a bit. I guess that Silverbulletday family is starting to kick in. And my assistant John Good did a terrific job with her here while we were in New York."
Neil Howard, conditioner of Secret Status, admits he is looking further down the road toward the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in October, and took the second-place finish in stride. "I don't think this was her best race. I'm not much of an excuse-maker, but the Keeneland win first back was a hard race, and I didn't do enough with her last time."
Saudi Poetry was bred in Kentucky by Ed and Pat Pavlish, and her fifth victory from 14 starts pushed her earnings total to $578,972. Not surprisingly, she will remain in Kentucky pending a decision on her next appearance.NO REGRETS
The whooping and shrieking in the winner's circle following the $167,250 Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-old fillies was courtesy of the connections of 28-1 Casual Feat, who turned in anything but a casual effort in moving straight from maiden company to a graded-stakes triumph. After being far back in four consecutive maiden efforts, including one loss by 37 1/4 lengths, Casual Feat broke her maiden on the turf three weeks before the Regret at the same 1 1/16-mile distance.
The water got deeper against the likes of Nasty Storm, coming off a win in the Dogwood (gr. III), and La Vida Loca, three-for-three stateside since entering Bill Mott's barn from Europe. Casual Feat, though, has found a new running style -- up close and fast. Larry Melancon won the first of his two graded stakes victories on the day when he sent the daughter of Cozzene out to the lead for trainer Steve Penrod and never looked back, defeating Amaretta by a length and a half. La Vida Loca finished third.
Casual Feat earned $103,695 for the win, nearly quadrupling her earnings in 1:42.75. She was bred in Kentucky by Hinkle Farms, which races her in a partnership of six owners under the Hidaway Farm banner. When he was asked if this was his first stakes win, co-owner Van Thompson replied, "It's the first time I've ever been in a stakes."