Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti’s Rose to Gold and Jacks or Better Farm, Inc.’s Awesome Belle ensured that the Festival Preview Day fillies would successfully fulfill their roles as race favorites when winning the $100,000 Brave Raj Stakes and the $100,000 Judy’s Red Shoes, but their male counterparts didn’t fare as well with Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday upsetting the $100,000 Foolish Pleasure and Signal Hill Farms’ Mucho Mas Macho the surprise winner of the $75,000 Needles.
For much of the year, the 2-year-old filly division at Calder was wide open, but those days of divisional uncertainty appear to be a thing of the past as the Sal Santoro-trained Rose to Gold has gone from unraced maiden to two-time stakes winner in just a three-week period after Saturday’s 13 ½-length Brave Raj triumph.
Ridden from post five by Jesus Rios, Rose to Gold employed similar race-tactics in the Brave Raj as she did when taking the $75,000 Lindsay Frolic in her career debut, sitting contently just off the early pace before unleashing a winning move at the half-mile mark, engulfing the early leader effortlessly before darting away from her vanquished rivals to prevail while running the one mile and 70-yard distance in 1:45.24.
“Everything went perfect; just the way I wanted it to,” Rios said. “She’s a tremendous filly. She may be one of the best I’ve ridden to this point in my career.”
Purchased at auction for just $1,400, the daughter of Friends Lake has already banked $72,000 during her brief two-race career, winning those races by an astounding combined-length margin of 26 ½ lengths.
Rose to Gold returned $2.60, $2.10, and $2.10 for the unchallenged win. Caraquista paid $5.20 and $2.80 when a well-beaten second, while Nicki Starshine brought back $2.10 when third.
A disappointment for the first half of the year while losing eight straight races, Jacks or Better Farm, Inc.’s Awesome Belle has turned her season around and has now secured her claim as the top 3-year-old filly at Calder following a powerful 4 ¾-length victory in the $75,000 Judy’s Red Shoes.
Starting from the inside stall under Fernando Jara, Awesome Belle took control of the race the moment the gate latch was sprung, establishing an unchallenged position on the lead that the daughter of Awesome of Course would never relinquish, covering the 1 1/16-mile distance over yielding turf in 1:44.46.
“Once she made the lead, she was very happy to relax, and just like last time, there wasn’t a horse that really tried to come at us,” Jara said. “And once she got relaxed, I knew that she would finish the race strong.”
Never presented with a threat at any point in the race, the Stanley Gold trainee has now won three straight stakes at the meet, adding a 2 ½-length triumph in the grassy Crystal Rail and a ¾-length main track win in the Three Ring to her Judy’s Red Shoes triumph.
Awesome Belle, winner of the $300,000 My Dear Girl Division of the 2011 Florida Stallion Stakes, has now visited the winner’s circle five times in 18 starts with lifetime earnings of $398,387.
Awesome Belle paid $6.20, $4.20, and $2.80 for the win. The late-running Jazz returned $7.40 and $4.00 when second, while Fine Silver brought back $3.40 in third.
Off consecutive double-digit length victories, including a 13-length triumph in the Seacliff Stakes, heavy expectations followed Sr. Quisqueyano to the gate for the Foolish Pleasure. But that colt’s participation in a spirited early pace battle, along with the continued emergence of the Eddie Plesa-trained Itsmyluckyday, led to Sr. Quisqueyano’s downfall as Itsmyluckyday proved three lengths the best.
Starting from post three with Manoel Cruz aboard, Itsmyluckyday settled happily in fourth as the heavy favorite Sr. Quisqueyano and 47-1 outsider Billos Boy fought for early control of the race.
“My horse can go to the lead, but there were a couple of others that wanted the lead, so I let them go and was happy to keep my horse covered up,” Cruz said.
As Sr. Quisqueyano put away Billos Boy at the top of the stretch, ill-effects felt from the duel began to show and Itsmyluckyday pounced when the opportunity arose, angling off the rail and charging to the front in mid-stretch.
Itsmyluckyday enjoyed a clear lead late, and while Sr. Quisqueyano fought back some in the final yards, the result was never truly in doubt as the son of Lawyer Ron cruised under the wire a clear winner while running the one mile and 70-yard distance in 1:45.45.
“All through the race, my horse gave me the choice to do whatever I wanted,” Cruz added. “And then when I asked him, that little horse, he gave me a big punch.”
The Foolish Pleasure victory was the second straight for Itsmyluckyday, who was also a four-length winner of the five-furlong Fasig-Tipton Dash three weeks ago, improving his career record to three wins from five starts with $110,600 in earnings.
Itsmyluckyday returned $9.20, $3.00, and $2.40 for the win. Sr. Quisqueyano brought back $2.10 and $2.10 for second, while Joshua’s Comprise paid $5.00 when running up late for third.
The final stake of Festival Preview Day, the Needles, was expected to be another easy assignment for divisional leader Empire Builder, who had won three of his last four, including a two-length turf triumph in the Naked Greed.
Inside the final furlong, it appeared that Empire Builder was going to reward his backers with yet another popular win, but in the final act of the drama the colt fluffed his lines, allowing the late-running Mucho Mas Macho to get up in last final jump to win by a neck.
“When you pick them up like that and your horse starts rolling, you’re like ‘wow, this is awesome’,” winning rider Juan Leyva said of his final-furlong charge to the front. “This horse has a tremendous kick, and even though it was kind of tough to find a clear path down the lane, once we found our spot, he just took off for me.”
Trained by Henry Collazo, Mucho Mas Macho is now a four-time winner in 17 starts, but owns a much better mark of three-for-seven in turf races, including victories in each of his last two outings. With his win in the Needles, the son of Macho Uno now boasts a career bankroll of $106,901.
Mucho Mas Macho returned $17.20, $5.06, and $3.40 for the win. Empire Builder paid $2.60 and $2.10 for an unlucky second, while Musical Flair returned $2.80 as the third-place finisher.
The Festival Preview Day program at Calder serves as the annual feeder event for the October 13 Festival of the Sun, a south Florida racing extravaganza that features five stakes, including the finals of the Florida Stallion Stakes and the Grade 3 Spend A Buck Handicap, with an estimated $850,000 in purse money to be awarded.