Paradise Woods returned to the winner’s circle on Saturday for the first time since capturing the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) when leading all the way home in the $294,000 Zenyatta Stakes (G1) with jockey Flavien Prat aboard.
The 1 1/16-mile contest, a “Win & You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Del Mar on November 3, saw Paradise Woods set the pace through splits of :23.13, :46.89, 1:11.50 and 1:37.33 while well clear of the rest of her rivals. She continued to open up in the lane before being geared down by Prat to cross under the wire 5 1/4 lengths in front of Faithfully.
Despite subpar off-the-board efforts in her last pair, Paradise Woods was sent off the 1-2 favorite against only three rivals and returned $3 for stopping the clock in 1:44.34 over Santa Anita Park’s fast main track.
Faithfully was easily best of the rest, 13 1/4 lengths up on Motown Lady. Midnight Toast ran in fourth throughout and filled that spot on the line, 9 1/4 lengths behind Motown Lady.
Campaigned by Steven Sarkowsky, and Marty and Pam Wygod, Paradise Woods debuted with a runner-up effort at Santa Anita on January 26. Trainer Richard Mandella sent her out on March 11 to break her maiden by 4 1/4 lengths, then immediately tried her against top-level competition in the Santa Anita Oaks.
The bay daughter of Union Rags responded with an 11-length victory in that Grade 1 affair and headed to Churchill Downs the 6-5 favorite for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 5. Paradise Woods didn’t show her earlier spark on that occasion after being pressed early, backing up to be 11th under the wire. She was given some time off and returned last out with another fading finish when sixth in the Torrey Pines Stakes (G3) at Del Mar on August 27.
With this win now under her girth, the bay filly improved her career record to read 6-3-1-0, $473,545.
Bred in Kentucky by Herman Sarkowsky, Paradise Woods is out of the unraced Forest Wildcat mare Wild Forest and counts as a half-brother stakes winner Forest Chatter. Her third dam produced multiple Grade 3-scoring leading sire Mr. Greeley and stakes heroine Majestic Legend, who is the granddam of champion and Kentucky Derby (G1) conqueror Street Sense.
Flavien Prat, jockey Paradise Woods, winner
“It was a lot different today. Last time was very bad and nothing went well. Today she broke just a tad slow, but she got going and really relaxed for me on the backside. We’ve been working on her relaxing because she has a tendency sometimes to be very aggressive.
“She was quite good today and we look forward to the next step.”
Rafael Bejarano, jockey Faithfully, second
“It was a good run. I know that number four (Paradise Woods) was supposed to be on the lead. I just hopped a little bit (at the start) and made sure not to stay too far back. I tried to give my horse a shot throughout the whole race. I was in perfect position. I had a beautiful trip. It’s just that the winner was clearly the best today.”
Richard Mandella, trainer Paradise Woods, winner
“I wasn’t as confident (as I’ve been in the past going into this race), not in her ability but the fact that she’s kind of gone south, mentally, on us. We had to get through some hard times, and we did. She responded. It was a lot of schooling.
“This was a relief. I was worried something would go wrong again, but it went right.
“I have to give (co-owner) Marty (Wygod) a lot of credit. I hate to do it (joking). He actually convinced me to go to the longer race. I was kind of leaning towards the sprint and just keeping my options open. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have worked her the seven furlongs the other day. I thought with the seven I could go a little shorter, or a little longer. But he suggested the long race might be the way to go and I have to give him credit. He was right. I would have come around with the idea anyway (joking again). She took it well but you never know if it’s going to work until you run ’em.
“The (Breeders’ Cup) Distaff ([G1] on November 3 at Del Mar) is the goal. I couldn’t ask for more than what we had today so I’ll have to put him down as the assistant trainer I guess.”
Marty Wygod, co-owner Paradise Woods, winner
“It sure does feel good (to have her back in form), but she had good excuses in her last two races. I never lost confidence in her, and (trainer Richard Mandella) never lost confidence in her, either. It always makes you feel good going into whatever we decide we want to do with her. It didn’t take much out of her –she was hardly blowing, and you could see (Flavien Prat) was having difficulty pulling her up.”
On her next start
“It’s too far in advance to make a decision.”