by J. Keeler Johnson
For the second straight year, the talented mare Stormy Embrace secured a “Win & You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) by winning the seven-furlong Princess Rooney Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Unlike in 2018, when Stormy Embrace dominated the Princess Rooney by six lengths, she had to work for victory this time around. Racing wide while vying for the lead under jockey Wilmer Garcia, Stormy Embrace took command on the far turn, but was soon confronted by Trenchtown Cat, who unleashed an eye-catching rally to reach contention at the top of the stretch.
Stormy Embrace drifted wide off the turn under urging from Garcia, and the bettors who pounded her down to 3-10 favoritism surely held their collective breath, but the chestnut mare persevered down the lane and stubbornly maintained a two-length lead to the finish line, which she reached in 1:22.99.
Owned by Matalona Thoroughbreds LLC and trained by Kathleen O’Connell, Stormy Embrace boosted her career record to nine wins from 25 starts, with six of her victories (including four stakes triumphs) coming at Gulfstream Park. Should Stormy Embrace take advantage of her fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup, she’ll hope to improve upon her 11th-place finish in the 2018 Filly & Mare Sprint.
“This business, sometimes you catch a buzz saw and sometimes you are the buzz saw. Thank God, with Kathleen and Wilmer, we were the buzz saw today. Plus, we wanted to go back (to the Breeders’ Cup) because we have unattended business,” Matt Vuscovich of Matalona Thoroughbreds said. “She didn’t have a really good trip, got beat least 10 lengths…We feel if we can get a good trip in the Breeders’ Cup we can have a legitimate chance.”
Later on the card, Kathleen O’Connell nearly nabbed a stakes double with favored Jalen Journey in the six-furlong Smile Sprint Stakes (G3). After dueling hard for the lead through fractions of :22.74 and :45.31, Jalen Journey entered the stretch with a slim advantage, but grew leg-weary late and was nabbed in the final furlong by Diamond Oops, who rallied from fifth at the quarter-pole to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:09.92.
“He broke very, very sharp and I kind of let the speed go a little bit,” winning jockey Julien Leparoux said. “I sat behind them around the turn. It got tight so he sort of stepped back a little, but when I gave him a little room he gave me a big run.”
Owned by the partnership of trainer Patrick Biancone, Diamond 100 Racing Club and Amy E. Dunne, Diamond Oops paid $15.20 as the 6-1 fourth choice in the wagering. Diamond Oops showed improvement while switching to dirt and dropping in class off a fifth-place finish in the Jaipur Invitational Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.
However, with just three lengths separating first-place from last-place in the Smile Sprint, handicappers are bound to debate the overall strength of the Smile Sprint field.
Regardless, Diamond Oops secured his fourth win from eight starts and boosted his record over the Gulfstream Park main track to a near-perfect four-for-five. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) could be a long-term goal for this son of Lookin at Lucky, though like Stormy Embrace, he’ll have to prove he can carry his best form away from Gulfstream Park.