When half a dozen three-year-old fillies squared off in the Gazelle (G3) on Saturday at Aqueduct, five started with odds less than 6-1. There was only one significant longshot in the field: Promiseher America, sent away at 26-1 despite entering off a dominant maiden victory at Aqueduct.
But of course, there are no certainties in racing, and the bettors who dismissed Promiseher America proved incorrect in their assessment. When the dust settled after 1 1/8 miles, Promiseher America was in front by half a length, paying $55.00 to win while earning 100 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
A perfect ride from Jorge Vargas Jr. helped propel Promiseher America to the winner’s circle. The daughter of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah didn’t get off to the best start, but recovered to track slow fractions of :24.34, :49.60, and 1:14.37 set by Capella. Occult, the 9-5 favorite, was also forwardly placed.
“She never breaks really well, so I was kind of expecting (a slow break),” Vargas told the New York Racing Association. “I let her take her time and then I pushed her a little and she got right into it. I was very pleased where I was the whole trip.”
Racing close to a slow pace left Promiseher America with plenty of energy for the stretch run. After edging clear of Capella and Occult, Promiseher America turned back one late challenge from Shidabhuti and another from Gambling Girl to prevail. By sprinting the final three furlongs in an excellent :37.04, Promiseher America reached the finish line in 1:51.41.
Gambling Girl settled for second place and picked up 40 Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualification points. Shidabhuti (30 points), Capella (20 points), Occult (10 points), and Frosty O Toole completed the order of finish.
“I liked her today. She was 12-1 (on the morning line) and only had to improve a little bit,” said winning trainer Raymond Handal, who conditions Promiseher America on behalf of owners Hoffman Thoroughbreds and Tom F. McCrocklin. “I thought it was a good race to take a shot in for sure. She had been training so well, we had to take a shot.”
The Gazelle marked Promiseher America’s first start in a two-turn race, and Handal expected the transition to trigger improvement off her 6 1/4-length triumph in a one-mile maiden special weight.
“This filly has done everything right since we’ve had her,” Handal said. “I thought that from before she ran she would relish the longer distances… She was super impressive last time and I said, ‘Let’s go the nine furlongs… She’s just built like a two-turn kind of horse. She obviously had to step up. It was one of those races where whoever took the biggest step forward would win this race today, and she was in the realm of them and she hung on.”
Handal indicated that Promiseher America is unlikely to ship to Kentucky until the week of the Kentucky Oaks, instead completing the majority of her pre-race training in New York.
Promiseher America wasn’t the only upset winner on Saturday at Aqueduct. Later on the card, Doppelganger sprung a 17-1 surprise in the Carter H. (G1), rallying boldly to down the homestretch to record his third consecutive victory.
Runner-up in the San Felipe (G2) and fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the 2021-22 Road to the Kentucky Derby, Doppelganger has spent most of his career running long. Coming into the Carter, he hadn’t sprinted since January 2022. But after winning a pair of allowance routes at Laurel Park to kick off 2023, Doppelganger relished cutting back in distance for the Carter.
A quick pace contributed to Doppelganger’s success. A three-way duel for the early lead between Today’s Flavor, Expressman, and Little Vic produced an opening quarter-mile in :22.40. Even once Expressman backed out of the duel, the other two pacesetters continued on through a stiff half-mile in :44.84.
Meanwhile, Doppelganger was racing fifth out of six, trailing the leaders by seven lengths under jockey Jevian Toledo. He was still three lengths behind at the furlong marker, but found his best stride close to home and took command in deep stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:23.25.
Repo Rocks, the 4-5 favorite after recording four straight stakes scores at Aqueduct, was sluggish in the early going and rallied only belatedly to nail Expressman by a nose for second place. Today’s Flavor faded late to finish fourth, followed by Bold Journey and Little Vic.
Doppelganger is 3-for-3 since transitioning to the care of trainer Brittany Russell, who conditions the four-year-old son of Into Mischief for the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert E. Masterson, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine M. Donovan, Golconda Stable, and Siena Farm.
Also on the Saturday card, three-year-old sprinters dashed seven furlongs in the Bay Shore (G3). Joey Freshwater, third in the Jimmy Winkfield S. and second in an allowance in his last two starts at Aqueduct, found the conditions just right and tracked splits of :23.54 and :46.88 on his way to victory by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:24.91.
Gilmore won a three-way photo for second place by a nose over Victory Way, who finished a neck ahead of Expected Value. Daydreaming Boy, Prove Right, and Arrebato trailed the field.
A son of Grade 1-winning sprinter Jimmy Creed, Joey Freshwater is owned by Winning Move Stable and trained by Linda Rice. Kendrick Carmouche was the winning rider. Joey Freshwater is improving with every start and could develop into a viable contender for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G1) at Belmont Park this spring.