December 1, 2023

Stormy Embrace upsets Princess Rooney to earn spot in Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Stormy Embrace winning the 2018 Princess Rooney (G2) at Gulfstream Park (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

Matalona Thoroughbreds LLC’s homebred STORMY EMBRACE pulled off a 15-1 upset in Saturday’s $267,500 Princess Rooney Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, and in the process secured an all-fees paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) on November 3 at Churchill Downs.

The Princess Rooney is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Challenge series, and many believed Curlin’s Approval would be the beneficiary of the automatic spot in the starting gate. However, Stormy Embrace grabbed control of the race from the onset, posted splits of :22.79, :45.25 and 1:08.97, and drew off in the lane to be six lengths clear on the wire under jockey Wilmer Garcia.

The Kathleen O’Connell-trained four-year-old paid $33.40 for finishing seven furlongs on the fast main track in 1:21.81.

Rich Mommy rallied from last at 14-1 to take second, three parts of a length in front of 8-5 second choice My Miss Tapit, who in turn finished 2 1/2 lengths up on 8-5 favorite Curlin’s Approval. Ms Locust Point, Spanish Harlem, She Takes Heart and Trebel completed the order under the wire.

Stormy Embrace earned her second straight stakes win in this spot, having captured the Musical Romance Stakes on May 19. The chestnut daughter of Circular Quay has placed in four other stakes contests, and now shows a 19-7-5-2, $452,370 lifetime record.

The Florida-bred Stormy Embrace is the first registered foal out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Stormy Allure, who is a half-sister to Grade 3-placed multiple stakes victress Executive Allure. This female line also includes Canadian champion and sire Sky Conqueror.


Kathleen O’Connell, trainer Stormy Embrace, winner

“That was great. She loves the Gulfstream track and the best thing about her is she’s kind of versatile. She can run off the pace or she can run in front. I told (jockey) Wilmer (Garcia), he’s rode the filly so much to just use his judgment. Right now I think he can fly back to New Jersey without the plane.

“This was like a super effort, but she’s a very, very nice filly and she has trained very well.

“I’ll have to talk to the owner and we’ll definitely have to change a few plans. You know me, I usually look for the easiest spots because that’s what like to do but she deserves it. (The owners) deserve it. They’re very wonderful people. I was very happy when they came into my barn a few years ago and it’s been very productive ever since.

“This is a good race. They’re all wonderful moments, believe me. All of them.”

Wilmer Garcia, jockey Stormy Embrace, winner

“We broke really well and just tried to keep our pace all the way around. I thought a couple horses had more speed than me, but we ended up in the lead. I tried to hold him down as best as I could and let him be free in the stretch.”

Dr. Matt Vuskovich (Matalona Thoroughbreds), owner Stormy Embrace, winner

“This goes to show you it’s a very egalitarian game. This is a $6,500 mare and the stallion was a reject, they sent to Panama. We first saw her when she was eight-hours old and she’s been a gem. She’s been a wonder for us.

“I have to give all the credit to the man who developed her, G.W. Parrish in High Springs. He’s a consummate horseman, and, of course, (trainer) Kathleen (O’Connell). We’re nothing compared to them. Kathleen has brought this horse along so masterfully. We had to give her a big break at one point…but she came back much stronger.”