Making her stakes debut in Sunday’s $500,000 Ballerina H. (G1), the streaking Goodnight Olive confirmed her progressive profile by dismissing a worthy field at Saratoga. The Chad Brown trainee extended her winning skein to five and booked her free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).
Although Goodnight Olive had been drubbing allowance foes in good time, the Ghostzapper filly was taking the plunge into much deeper waters at the Spa. Topping the cast was divisional champion Ce Ce, the 125-pound highweight, along with Grade 1 winners Obligatory and Bella Sofia.
Two factors contributed to Goodnight Olive’s acing the class test: the outside post 7 that helped jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. engineer a favorable trip, despite a bumpy start, and her light weight of 118 pounds. The clearly subpar efforts of the principals also must be noted, although they would have needed their best to cope with Goodnight Olive here.
The plot twist right out of the gate was Travel Column heading Bella Sofia for the early lead, while expected pace factor Lady Rocket was never involved. Bella Sofia beat a retreat after the opening quarter in :22.09 and eventually wound up last.
Goodnight Olive, initially third, advanced into second through the half in :44.50. Since Travel Column’s back class is all over a route, Goodnight Olive appeared poised to outkick her at this trip. And the rest had work to do to reach contention. Ce Ce wasn’t making any impact from off the pace, and Obligatory was already under a ride at the rear.
In upper stretch, Goodnight Olive surged clear to prove her Grade 1 ability emphatically. The 5.80-1 fourth choice crossed the wire a 2 3/4-length winner. Moreover, her time for seven furlongs was a brisk 1:21.40, just a couple of ticks off the 1:21.09 stakes record set by Lady Tak (2004).
Caramel Swirl outperformed her 15.30-1 odds as the runner-up. Unraced since a May 20 allowance score, the Raven Run (G2) heroine rallied into the picture but couldn’t threaten. Her Bill Mott stablemates concluded the superfecta – Obligatory was along for third after trouble turning into the lane, and Travel Column tired to fourth.
Ce Ce checked in fifth, beating only Lady Rocket and Bella Sofia. Regular rider Victor Espinoza could tell early on that the 1.55-1 favorite wasn’t going to fire.
“She’s a little bit picky when it comes to the track, and today it was not her favorite,” Espinoza said of Ce Ce. “She bounced out of there and she wasn’t doing her thing. I was just trying to encourage her to get her rhythm but it seemed like she struggled. I tried to get her outside and hoped. I tried everything I can and hopefully she could go forward.
“But it’s one of those things where if she doesn’t like the track, she will not run,” Espinoza added. “She will be OK. She will get them next time. The most important thing is that she comes out good and we’ll go for the next.”
Brown credited Ortiz’s well-judged ride from Goodnight Olive’s good post.
“It played out just exactly as we thought,” Brown said. “We thought she’d be laying roughly third – we talked about it in the paddock – off a hot pace, so Irad and I were both on the same page; don’t get involved so much with the pace, but don’t be too far away. She drew beautiful with the seven post. Of all the options in the world, I was very pleased after the draw.
“I thought we had a good shot in the race, but it was a deep field. As I was handicapping the race this afternoon, I could make a case for five, maybe six horses that, if they ran their very best today, could win. Beautiful ride by Irad, beautiful post.
“What a wonderful sight. She’s the only clean horse in the field. Again, it supports my feeling about the post position. I think what you see there played a big role as well.”
Goodnight Olive boasts a record of 6-5-1-0, $499,950, for owners First Row Partners and Team Hanley. Bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, she is out of the multiple Grade 3-winning Smart Strike mare Salty Strike. The dark bay sold for $170,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling.
Shelved after a debut second in March 2021, Goodnight Olive resumed last fall to break her maiden by 8 1/2 lengths at Keeneland and add an entry-level allowance at Aqueduct by nine lengths. She wasn’t seen again until June 22, when wiring her four-year-old bow by 5 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park. Plans called for her to step up to the stakes level in the Shine Again S., but that Saratoga feature didn’t fill. Brown went to Plan B, an Aug. 7 allowance, and Goodnight Olive rolled from just off the pace by 3 3/4 lengths.
“She always wins the right way,” Ortiz observed after the Ballerina. “In the allowance races, you could see how easy she won. She’s a nice filly but she had never faced Grade 1 horses in the afternoon, but she did it today and she showed up. The trainer picked the races for her step by step, didn’t rush, and today the patience paid off.
“She’s very tactical. She can do anything. She can be on the front. She can sit off of the speed. She can be at the back and she always shows up. She’s nice.”
Brown admitted that the sparingly-raced filly has had to overcome physical issues, specifying a couple of procedures by Dr. Larry Bramlage to remove ankle chips.
“I want to thank my team and all these beautiful partners that are in the picture here,” her trainer said. “There’s been more not-good phone calls about this filly than good phone calls. She hasn’t run a lot.
“A lot of stop and go with her, not unlike her dad who I worked with, Ghostzapper. Maybe not on the track often, but very talented. She’s had some soundness issues, but the team of owners always let me do the right thing, take my time with this horse and never push her beyond what she was ready to do. She finally got it all together. She’s nice and sound and healthy, and I appreciate their patience.
“When she is on the track running, which hasn’t been a lot, she’s doing it with ease and unchallenged. You only get a few shots at these big Grade 1 races at a distance that I think might be perfect for her. Only back on three weeks, we thought we’d take a shot and it worked out.”
Brown is inclined to keep her under wraps until the Breeders’ Cup.
“I don’t know if I’ll run her between now and (the Breeders’ Cup). She just ran back in three weeks, that’d be the reason. We’ll see how she’s doing. With her, you can’t take anything for granted. She’s had a lot of stoppages, but now she’s good. Knock on wood, she stays that way.
“She’s had a couple times to have chips out of her ankles. Twice we’ve had to deal with them. I’m fortunate for our team at Rood and Riddle, to Dr. Bramlage and to my team, taking care of this filly. She’s come back well. We’re just trying to keep her on track.”