February 22, 2024

Con Lima wires Saratoga Oaks; Regal Glory swoops in De La Rose

Con Lima wins the Saratoga Oaks (Photo by Janet Garaguso/Coglianese Photos)

Contrasting styles were on display in Saratoga’s turf stakes Sunday. While Con Lima was uncatchable on the front end in the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks (G3), Regal Glory rallied to take the $120,000 De La Rose S.

Saratoga Oaks (G3)

Newly minted Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had two reasons for optimism about Con Lima’s justifying 3.05-1 favoritism. Her proficiency around Gulfstream Park was likely to translate to Saratoga, and her potential to be controlling speed loomed as a tactical advantage.

That hinged, however, on the intentions of the international fillies. Godolphin’s British invader Creative Flair and Chad Brown’s Irish recruit Rocky Sky have been pace factors at home. Joseph O’Brien’s Messidor, a stablemate of Saturday’s Saratoga Derby (G1) upsetter State of Rest, can be tactical on occasion.

Pletcher recounted his thoughts to NYRA publicity:

“I was analyzing the race beforehand, and we were the only speed, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure with a couple of the Euros if they would show some initiative. I left it in Flavien’s hands, and Plan A was to break well and see if anybody would try to take the lead away from us and if they didn’t, we’d be happy to have it. It worked out really well.”

Indeed, when Creative Flair wasn’t quick into stride, Messidor didn’t show interest, and Rocky Sky was restrained, Con Lima glided to the front without opposition. Jockey Flavien Prat took it from there, nursing her through splits of :23.64, :50.02, and 1:14.34 on the firm Mellon course.

Con Lima picked up the tempo at the decisive stage in the 1 3/16-mile affair. Establishing enough daylight after clocking the mile in 1:37.75, she held sway by three-quarters of a length in 1:54.42.

Higher Truth, well placed in a tracking third early, inched nearer late for the runner-up spot. Creative Flair closed purposefully another 1 1/4 lengths adrift, prompting the what-ifs about her trip.

“She didn’t jump at all,” Hall of Famer Mike Smith lamented of Creative Flair. “The rail was (18) feet out. I couldn’t circle them all. So, I just covered her up and actually that’s the kind of trip you like on a grass horse, but she’s a frontrunner. I finally got a trip on the grass, and I was supposed to be on the lead.”

Plum Ali also improved into fourth. Gam’s Mission was taken out of her closing style to stalk Con Lima, only to retreat to fifth. Next came Out of Sorts, Messidor, and Rocky Sky, who folded tamely after a wide trip around the entire circuit.

“The speed was pretty much me (Con Lima) and the Godolphin filly (Creative Flair),” Prat recapped, “and it seems she broke a step slow. I broke better than her and I ended up on the lead.

“Going to the first turn I felt really comfortable. I was really pleased with the way she was traveling and I felt we were doing some easy fractions. She really kicked on well.

“I got her ready to kick and she really did. When she swapped leads, she responded well from that point.”

Pletcher could tell that Con Lima was in her element.

“He just gradually got up there instead of having to hustle her and use her,” Pletcher said of Prat’s easily making the lead. “She relaxed really well. You could see when she turned up the back side and her ears were flicking back and forth that she was in a happy zone.”

Con Lima had likewise found her happy zone last time in the July 10 Belmont Oaks (G1), but Aidan O’Brien’s highly-regarded Santa Barbara ran her down. That form stood strong here, with Belmont Oaks third Higher Truth again chasing Con Lima home. Hence the Saratoga Oaks result paid Santa Barbara a compliment ahead of her bid in Saturday’s Beverly D. S. (G1).

Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Joseph Graffeo, Eric Nikolaus Del Toro, and Troy Johnson, Con Lima has compiled a 13-7-5-0 mark with $884,865 in earnings. The dark bay has won five stakes this season. Three of those trophies came at Gulfstream – the Herecomesthebride (G3) (via disqualification), Ginger Brew, and Honey Ryder – and she captured the June 3 Wonder Again (G3) at Belmont Park.

“People asked me if I was confident she would handle the distance,” Pletcher said. “I’ve always thought she would handle the distance. I’m a little surprised at where the turf comes from. It’s not obvious in her pedigree, but she seems to handle it really well.”

Con Lima is by Pletcher’s 2014 Belmont S. (G1) near-misser, Commissioner. Her dam, the stakes-winning Consolidator mare Second Street City, was primarily a dirt performer but effective in her limited turf opportunities. Second Street City is a half-sister to Trix in the City, best known for upsetting the 2011 De La Rose.

Bred in Texas by Lisa Kuhlmann, Con Lima couldn’t attract much attention at the sales. The $15,000 Keeneland November weanling RNA’d for $19,000 as a September yearling, and again was led out unsold for $22,000 as a juvenile at OBS March.

De La Rose S.

The pace was a bit better in the De La Rose, but Peter Brant’s Regal Glory was the only deep closer able to overhaul the leaders. The 8-5 second choice had clear sailing, unlike Viadera, her 6-5 stablemate from the Brown barn, and the acceleration to get up.

Piloted by Jose Ortiz, who later won Sunday’s Adirondack (G2) aboard Wicked Halo, Regal Glory was held up several lengths behind pacesetting Shifty She. After initial fractions of :23.89 and :48.58 on the firm inner turf, Shifty She began to quicken at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.20, and opened up into the stretch. The stalking Hendy Woods moved up to pursue her, and eventually accosted Shifty She by the sixteenth pole.

By that point, Regal Glory was in full flight. Along in time by a half-length, the Animal Kingdom mare covered the mile in 1:34.85 to stay a perfect 3-for-3 at the Spa.

Hendy Woods reported home 1 1/4 lengths clear of Shifty She. Defending champion Viadera ran into traffic when trying to rally from last, and belatedly extricated herself in a comeback fourth.

“She had a rough trip for her first time back,” Brown said. “It happens sometimes when you have a late-running horse like that. I spoke to (jockey) Joel (Rosario) briefly, and he was frustrated because he had to stop a couple of different times and by the time she got clear, it was just too late.”

Raven’s Cry, Star Command, and Belle Laura rounded out the order of finish.

Brant purchased Regal Glory for $925,000 from the dispersal of the Paul Pompa estate at Keeneland January. For her late owner/breeder, the chestnut won five stakes highlighted by the 2019 Lake Placid (G2) (in a dead-heat), Lake George (G3), and Penn Oaks as well as last fall’s Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3). She finished runner-up in a trio of stakes, all graded – the Appalachian (G2) and Sweetest Chant (G3) in 2019 and the 2020 Intercontinental (G3).

Regal Glory made a winning debut in Brant’s colors in the April 11 Plenty of Grace at Aqueduct, but met with trouble when fourth last out in the June 5 Just a Game (G1). Her scorecard stands at 14-8-3-0, $924,884.

Brown explained the rationale for running in the De La Rose:

“I spoke to Mr. Brant and said, ‘Let’s get her to Saratoga and let’s put her in a race where she can get a good trip,’ and hopefully put a ‘W’ under her belt with the eye of trying to win a Grade 1 with her this year, which is why he kept her in training after he bought her. We’ll see what’s next for her, but for now we’ll just enjoy this.”

The Kentucky-bred is a half-sister to high-class Japanese dirt performer Cafe Pharoah, hero of this year’s February S. (G1), and to multiple Grade 3-winning turfiste Night Prowler. Their dam is Grade 2 vixen Mary’s Follies, by More Than Ready.