About two hours after Paradise Woods rebounded in the Zenyatta (G1), fellow Richard Mandella trainee Avenge did likewise in the $301,380 Rodeo Drive (G1). Aside from giving the Hall of Fame horseman a Grade 1 “Win & You’re In” double at Santa Anita, the pair demonstrated that they’re returning to form just in time for the Breeders’ Cup.
Avenge had won last year’s Rodeo Drive en route to a third to Queen’s Trust and Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) over this course and 1 1/4-mile trip. In two outings this season, the Ramona Bass colorbearer was a tiring third to Lady Eli in the May 27 Gamely (G1) here, and only sixth last out in the Yellow Ribbon (G2) (the former Palomar) at Del Mar.
But Mandella worked his magic, and Avenge was back on song in her Rodeo Drive title defense. Moreover, she became the first back-to-back winner in the race’s 41-year history. The only other dual winner, Wait a While, scored her victories two years apart (2006, 2008) under its original name, the Yellow Ribbon.
Unlike last year’s wire job, Avenge stalked pacesetting Goldy Espony through fractions of :23.72, :47.50, and 1:11.34 on the firm course. Even-money favorite Goodyearforroses advanced alongside Avenge’s flank, and winning rider Flavien Prat responded by turning Avenge loose rounding the far turn. The two outkicked marathoner Goldy Espony, but Goodyearforroses couldn’t sustain it, while Avenge spurted ahead by as many as 2 1/2 lengths in midstretch. Avenge saw her margin reduced late to three-quarters of a length, but the 2-1 second choice was well on top in a final time of 1:58.74 – just .22 off her clocking in the 2016 Rodeo Drive.
Goldy Espony, to her great credit, kept on dourly to regain second and hold her position in a three-way photo. The gray was surrounded by challengers, third-placer Responsibleforlove on her inside and Amboseli fourth on her outside. Next came Decked Out, Majestic Heat, Frenzified, Goodyearforroses, and Kiss Me Now. Beau Recall was scratched.
Avenge was handing Prat his third Grade 1 on the card, after Paradise Woods and Chandelier (G1) heroine Moonshine Memories. The five-year-old mare was also capping another headline day for sire War Front, who was responsible for the exacta (U S Navy Flag and Fleet Review) in the Middle Park (G1) earlier Saturday at Newmarket. On Friday, the Claiborne stallion’s War Decree ran himself into Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) consideration in the Diamond (G3) at Dundalk.
Bred by Lerici Syndicate in Kentucky and purchased for $650,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling, Avenge has bankrolled $868,341 from her 16-7-0-3 line. Her additional stakes credits came in the 2015 Ultrafleet sprinting on Santa Anita’s downhill turf and in last summer’s John C. Mabee (G2).
Avenge was produced by the winning Woodman mare Lerici, also the dam of Grade 3-placed multiple stakes scorer Lira (by Giant’s Causeway). This is the further family of Grasshopper, Folk Art, and Sportin’ Life.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella on Avenge: “This feels very good. This is what we do this for. I was impressed that she settled off the leader and that she had such a good finish.
“I felt better about it at the quarter pole. When she exploded away from there, you could tell it was working. But she’s run so well on the lead, I wasn’t looking to change it, but (Bob) Baffert’s horse (Goldy Espony) took the place we were thinking of.
“It’s been frustrating because we couldn’t quite get her back to herself until now but, I think we do have her now and we hope we’re in as good of shape as we did last year.”
Winning rider Flavien Prat: “Three Grade 1s, that’s the first time for me. My filly was nice and relaxed. When (Corey) Nakatani (on Goodyearforroses) came to me at the three eighths, my filly grabbed the bit, but she stayed relaxed. I was a little surprised the other filly stopped like she did, but it worked out good for us. My filly kept running.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on runner-up Goldy Espony: “You know, early on in her career she was certainly capable of beating these kinds of horses. She hadn’t shown this kind of run in a while. She was off almost two years prior to her last race and ran well but got very tired. I just didn’t know what to expect with this field so I feel like I won. I’m very, very pleasantly surprised that we got second in a Group race.”
Corey Nakatani on Goodyearforroses, eighth as the favorite: “We were traveling really well and then we engaged with the winner. That horse of Mandella’s was really running. I saw Mandella’s horse came home in (1:)58 and that’s moving for a mile and quarter. My horse was a little too keen today. We clipped heels a couple of times and I had to turn her off. She’ll be fine.”