Surging in the nick of time, Paradise Farms Corp. and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Stunning Sky collared Princess Grace late in Friday’s $150,000 Valley View Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. The 5-1 chance was earning her first stakes victory after a trio of placings, and trainer Mike Maker is looking forward to what the future holds for the scopey sophomore.
“As big as she is, as she gets older, we’ll go marathon distances – no doubt about it,” Maker said.
Stunning Sky is no plodder though, for she finished the 1 1/16-mile Valley View in a stakes-record 1:41.33. That eclipsed the 1:41.51 set by Spinning Round in the race’s second-ever running in 1992. Spinning Round had no run-up, while Stunning Sky had a 223-foot run-up.
Twice runner-up in stakes at Saratoga, Stunning Sky had gone close in both the July 19 Lake Placid (G2) and the Aug. 16 Saratoga Oaks Invitational. The Declaration of War filly was coming off a fourth to Micheline and Harvey’s Lil Goil in the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs – a key piece of form considering that the top two came back to furnish the exacta (in reverse order) in Keeneland’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1).
With Ricardo Santana aboard for the first time, Stunning Sky relaxed well off the fast pace. Outburst was winging it through fractions of :22.71, :46.23, and 1:10.50 on the firm course. Walk in Marrakesh stalked in second and ranged alongside to challenge entering the stretch, but soon came up empty.
At that point, Princess Grace was the eye-catcher, boldly advancing from midpack to stride clear and look all over the winner in midstretch. Although Stunning Sky at last began to materialize, her rally appeared likelier to garner a minor award. The further they went, though, the more Stunning Sky gained momentum until she reeled in Princess Grace by a half-length.
The 29-1 How Ironic also finished with a flourish from last to grab third, another half-length back. How Ironic underscored the depth of the Dueling Grounds Oaks, since she’d been seventh at Kentucky Downs.
Witez overtook the one-paced 3-1 favorite, Duopoly, in fourth. Next came Outburst; Sugar Fix; Antoinette, the Saratoga Oaks winner who never factored from off the pace; Walk in Marrakesh; and Pranked. In Good Spirits and Lucky Betty were scratched.
“The pace was pretty hot,” Santana recapped. “The race set up perfectly for her. Turning for home, she switched leads to her right leg. She gave me everything she had.”
Maker revealed that it wasn’t quite how he mapped it out, but praised Santana for engineering the winning trip.
“I was very pleased with the fractions. The race didn’t shape up the way I thought it would, but I left it in Ricardo’s hands, and he rode a great race. She ran some game races, unlucky to lose, at Saratoga. Very deserving. Such a big, classy filly. I like to get a stakes win for (co-owner) Peter Proscia (of Paradise Farms).”
Princess Grace’s trainer, Mike Stidham, was pleased with her stakes debut.
“She had a great trip and opened up a big lead. She looked like a winner,” Stidham said. “That was her first time against those kind of horses, and I was very proud of her effort. She ran too good to lose.”
Stunning Sky has compiled a record of 11-3-2-1, $304,825. Initially racing for Parkland Thoroughbreds, the bay was claimed for $50,000 out of her off-the-turf maiden score at Gulfstream Park last December. She made a winning debut for Maker and new owner Paradise Farms in an entry-level allowance on the Gulfstream turf. Parkland rejoined her ownership group, and she went straight into stakes company thereafter. Stunning Sky placed in one of her first four stakes attempts – a third in the Honey Ryder – but came of age at the Spa.
Bred by Stephen J. McDonald in Kentucky, Stunning Sky RNA’d for $85,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and sold for $100,000 at the same venue as a September yearling. Her dam, the Unbridled’s Song mare Sky Walk, is a full sister to Grade 1-placed sire Unbridled Express and to Unbridled Melody, the dam of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) victor Tourist. This is also the immediate family of Grade 3 scorers One Mean Man and Mizz Money. Further back, one finds Japanese stars Agnes World and Hishi Akebono as well as Group 1-winning milers Librettist and Dubai Destination.