Emory Hamilton's homebred Serra Lake rallied in the stretch to win Sunday's $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. Under a well-timed ride from Edgar Prado, Serra Lake completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.62 on a fast track.
Beautiful Pleasure built a commanding lead while setting fractions of :23.67 and :46.86 in a reprise of her front-running performance in last year's renewal of the race. Beautiful Pleasure led by 12 lengths after a half-mile and 10 lengths after six furlongs (1:10.74) before Pompeii and March Magic led the field closer to the frontrunner on the second turn. Pompeii and March Magic rushed by Beautiful Pleasure in the stretch only to be passed by Serra Lake, who pulled away to the 1 3/4-length victory in the final sixteenth-mile.
"I was hoping someone would pressure Beautiful Pleasure because I knew she was going to the front, but she went fast anyway," said Prado. "After that, my horse just gave me a tremendous closing kick. She's improved so much over the last few months. It was a great race from her."
Pompeii finished second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of March Magic. Darling My Darling, Beautiful Pleasure, Critical Eye, Dreams Gallore, and Wittenberg completed the order of finish.
"I don't know what to tell you," said Beautiful Pleasure's rider Jorge Chavez. "She was sweating a lot before the race. She dragged me to the front. I didn't want to fight her. She got tired."
Secret Status was scratched after acting up in the gate.
"Secret Status sustained a cut over her right eye and her mouth got caught in the bar of the gate when she started to scramble around," said veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner. "It was enough to take her out of this race, but it isn't serious."
Serra Lake (Seattle Slew--Tara Roma, by Lyphard) finished fourth in the Hempstead Handicap (gr. I) in her most recent race prior to the Go for Wand. Prior to that, she won the Pimlico Distaff Handicap (gr. III) following two consecutive allowance wins at Aqueduct. The 4-year-old filly earned $150,000 for her seventh win from 13 career starts.
The grade I win, was especially meaningful to trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey, who was coming into Saratoga following a disastrous meet at Belmont Park.
"We had a pretty cold Belmont, but I sort of kind of backed off on the horses and took a look at them," McGaughey said. "I've been around the game long enough to know not to get too down when things are going bad. I knew somewhere along the line, we would bounce back. After the Fourth of July weekend, we started looking forward to Saratoga and a change of scenery. I brought a few of them up here early -- Serra Lake being one of them -- which I don't know I've ever done before. I looked in the condition book and things came up my way. I was between the Del 'Cap (Delaware Park Handicap) and here for this filly. I got a little bit worried about the racetrack in Delaware. Serra Lake won over this track last year. I thought she would get a pace with Beautiful Pleasure, and that's the way it worked out. It was just a matter of being patient. I thought going a mile and an eighth around two turns helped us, and so did the scratch of Secret Status."
The Go for Wand was the second straight winner on the day for McGaughey, who saddled Saint Verre prior to his win in the race immediately proceding the feature.
"I said coming up here, if I don't get of to a good start I won't have a good meet," the conditioner said. "Luckily, we've gotten off to a good start. I wish they ran the Breeders' Cup two miles. Her mother won the Ladies (Tara Roma) going a mile and a quarter; I think it is just a matter of the farther the better.
"The Personal Ensign (gr. I, Aug. 24) would have to be a pretty good option, going a mile and a quarter over this track."
Serra Lake's win was the sixth victory in the race for McGaughey.
Serra Lake, sent off at just over 8-1, returned $18.40, $8.50, and $5. Pompeii paid $8.70 and $5.70 and March Magic paid $8.40. The winning exacta combination returned $89. (Chart, Equibase