December 4, 2021

Ce Ce thrives on cutback in Breeders’ Cup WAYI Princess Rooney

Ce Ce wins the Princess Rooney Stakes (Photo by Lauren King/Coglianese Photos)

Victor Espinoza trekked to Gulfstream Park to ride California shipper Ce Ce in Saturday’s $350,000 Princess Rooney S. (G2), and also got a late pick-up mount aboard Miles Ahead in the $200,000 Smile Sprint S. (G3). The Florida trip turned out to be productive, as the Hall of Famer swept both graded stakes at the Summit of Speed.

Princess Rooney S. (G2)

Multiple Grade 1 winner Ce Ce was the most accomplished entrant in the Princess Rooney, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), but she needed some logistical help – twice. Trainer Michael McCarthy reportedly had to solve a transport puzzle just for Ce Ce to get there, and in the race itself, Espinoza had to work to get her into the clear.

The Bo Hirsch homebred was seeking to rebound from a disappointing last-of-four effort in the May 22 Santa Maria S. (G2) at her Santa Anita base. While the different surface helped, reverting to seven furlongs was at least as important a factor.

Ce Ce went off as the 2.70-1 second choice. Bettors preferred the hot current form of Estilo Talentoso, betting her down to 6-5 favoritism. But the favorite put herself in a tough position with a slow start. So did Laura’s Light, whose stumbling break prevented her from using her typical speed.

Meanwhile, Ce Ce was well placed within striking range of the early leaders. Thissmytime grabbed the lead from Pacific Gale through the opening quarter in :22.48, but soon succumbed. Pacific Gale regained the baton and clocked the half in :44.90, until beset turning for home. The stalking Sound Machine was the first to challenge, and Estilo Talentoso was uncorking a bold move wider out.

Espinoza had to maneuver Ce Ce around the stopping Thissmytime, then alter course again to slice between Sound Machine and Estilo Talentoso. The Elusive Quality mare had all the necessary gears to find room, and make the most of it. Surging once seeing daylight in the lane, Ce Ce drew off by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:21.94.

“I thought we were in a good spot,” McCarthy told Gulfstream publicity from Los Alamitos. “I was hoping to have a bit of a target to run at. I told Victor not to get in a hurry and not rush her out of there and ride her where she was comfortable. We were hoping for a nice stalking trip, and that we did. Around the turn it looked like we had plenty of run. It was just a matter of trying to get outside and finding our best stride, and we did that today.”

“She’s pretty impressive,” Espinoza said. “She loves this track; it’s a little different than what she’s been running at. Today, she ran her race. They were rolling, the ones in front of me. I know they’re going to get tired turning for home, so I just gave her enough time to split the horses.”

Estilo Talentoso headed Sound Machine for second. Next came Hallawallah, Pacific Gale, Laura’s Light, Heiressall, and Thissmytime.

Ce Ce is now a millionaire with $1,113,100 in earnings from her 13-6-1-2 line. Her signature wins came in last year’s Beholder Mile (G1) and Apple Blossom H. (G1), and she also placed in the 2020 Santa Maria and Clement L. Hirsch S. (G1). Fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Ce Ce opened her five-year-old campaign with a sharp score in a seven-furlong Santa Anita allowance April 17.

The Kentucky-bred is a third-generation Grade 1 winner, after her dam, the Belong to Me mare Miss Houdini, and granddam, Magical Maiden. Miss Houdini has produced another millionaire, multiple Grade 2 victor Papa Clem, and she also factors as the second dam of Grade 3 scorers Hot Springs and Ready Intaglio.

Smile Sprint S. (G3)

After just missing by a head to Diamond Oops in a June 5 handicap at this track and trip, Miles Ahead turned the tables in his first black-type stakes attempt. The 3.30-1 second choice raced in touch with the pace before sweeping to the front, while 17-10 favorite Diamond Oops closed belatedly for third.

Espinoza was the super-sub for jockey Edwin Gonzalez, who was unseated one race prior.

“It was nice that I was on the outside and I was able to control the race the whole way and see what the inside horses wanted to do,” Espinoza recapped. “It worked out perfect. It was a pretty talented horse I rode.”

The Eddie Plesa-trained Miles Ahead indeed traveled sweetly in third, just a length off pacesetting Willy Boi through an opening quarter in :22.55. The pressing Shivaree gave way between them, and Miles Ahead advanced to within a half-length of Willy Boi by the half in :45.46. Chance It was likewise moving well into contention, but Miles Ahead beat him to the punch to hold sway. A half-length up at the wire, Miles Ahead covered six furlongs in 1:09.61.

Diamond Oops, the 2019 Smile Sprint winner, arguably had too much to do from off the pace and checked in another 2 3/4 lengths back. Willy Boi held fourth by a neck from Double Crown, who was always out of position after a slow, bobbling start. Frosted Grace was another slowly away, and Ournationonparade stumbled badly out of the gate. Shivaree retreated to last.

Miles Ahead occasionally raced for a tag earlier in his career, but he hasn’t been risked since last summer. Seventh in the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit here Dec. 5, Miles Ahead has proven admirably consistent this season. The four-year-old gelding has been plying his trade mostly in starter allowance company but captured an optional claimer as well. Now the winner of three of his last four, he sports a mark of 16-8-2-1, $260,960.

“He’s an improving horse…one of those horses you have to have patience with,” Plesa said of Miles Ahead, who races for his wife, Laurie, in partnership with David Melin and Leon Ellman. “Some of these horses are late developers, and he’s come around nicely.

“I worked him – he never showed anything.  I put him on the turf because he never showed anything, and he got beat 30 lengths. I dropped him in for $12,500 and he won the length of the stretch. He’s been an over-achiever since then.”

Bred by Nicholas M. Lotz and Betsy Kelley in Kentucky, Miles Ahead initially sold for $120,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The dark bay brought $175,000 from his current connections as an OBS March juvenile.

Miles Ahead is the third stakes performer produced by his dam, multiple stakes victress and Grade 3-placed Jennie R. The Awesome Again mare is also responsible for Grade 2-placed stakes scorer La Grange and Assiniboia mainstay Magic d’Oro. Moreover, Jennie R.’s unraced daughter Augusta Queen has foaled stakes winners Ruffenuff and Wendell Fong, who was runner-up in the March 6 Tom Fool H. (G3).