June 24, 2024

Three Witches makes winning debut for McCarthy in Santa Monica

Three Witches made a winning debut for Yuesheng Zhang and Michael McCarthy in the Santa Monica (Photo by Benoit Photo)

In addition to riding the superb Nysos in the Robert B. Lewis (G3), Flavien Prat won two other graded stakes on the Santa Anita card, both aboard mares making eagerly-awaited returns to action.

Three Witches, sold for $1.7 million after her third-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), promptly won Saturday’s $200,000 Santa Monica (G2) in her debut for new connections. Earlier in the $101,000 Megahertz (G3), Bellabel showed no rust off a nearly 16-month layoff to re-establish herself as a leading player on the local turf scene.

Santa Monica (G2)

Three Witches has begun to repay the investment by internationally active owner Yuesheng Zhang, who transferred her to trainer Michael McCarthy. Dispatched as the 8-5 favorite, Three Witches monitored pacesetting Hot Peppers through an opening quarter in :22.99, accosted her passing the half in :45.55, and kicked away by 2 1/2 lengths. The daughter of Into Mischief negotiated seven furlongs in 1:23.21 to enhance her resume to 9-4-4-2, $417,970.

Chismosa closed from last to take second. Kirstenbosch was an even third, followed by Hot Peppers and longshot Cliquish. Rose Maddox was withdrawn.

Three Witches was capturing her second graded stakes. The late bloomer sprang a 10-1 upset in her stakes debut, the Oct. 7 Princess Rooney (G3), for Saffie Joseph Jr. That “Win and You’re In” punched her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup, where she rallied belatedly behind two-time champion Goodnight Olive and Yuugiri.

“She trained very nicely,” McCarthy said of the lightly-raced five-year-old. “I can’t say thank you enough to Mr. Yuesheng Zhang and everybody involved with him, for sending her to us. Quite a nice surprise.

“This filly has trained well all along, a little bit workmanlike in the morning. We put some blinkers on her a couple of works back and she really stepped up her game.

“Today I think the big difference was Flavien was able to kind of get her to ease off of Hot Peppers and get outside of her. She found a nice kind of rhythm to get into up the backside, relax, and Flavien called upon her around the turn and she responded.”

While Three Witches is a fine acquisition for a racing stable, she’s especially valuable as a future broodmare for Zhang. Her dam, the Tale of the Cat mare Layreebelle, has produced multiple graded winners Kid Cruz and Spellbound (herself the dam of Grade 2 queen Soothsay). Moreover, this is the immediate family of 2018 Triple Crown champion and emerging global sire Justify.

Megahertz (G3)

Bellabel hadn’t raced since her third in the 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland, but bettors believed that the Phil D’Amato mare would return to her sparkling form back at a mile on this circuit. The 1.90-1 favorite didn’t disappoint.

Prat employed new front-running tactics on Bellabel, carving out a steady tempo of :23.86, ;48.59, and 1:13.19. The Irish-bred daughter of Belardo had plenty left for the sprint home. Quickening decisively into the lane, Bellabel held sway by a comfortable length in 1:36.16.

Mouffy, hard to handle after having to check off heels early, did well to regroup for second in a blanket finish for the minors. Justique was a nose away in third, but classy Cal-bred Closing Remarks was only sixth in an unfavorable race shape.

Bellabel’s resume reads 10-4-2-2, $364,780, reflecting wins in the 2022 San Clemente (G2) and Blue Norther S. She was best of the rest behind the brilliant Spendarella in that summer’s Del Mar Oaks (G1) before venturing to Keeneland.

“I give credit to my staff,” D’Amato said, “especially at Los Alamitos where they prepped her. They did a great job there and just put the finishing touches here.

“I was licking my chops when I saw them open up at the top of the lane by a couple. She kind of showed that old turn of foot. You never know. It’s her first time against older after a long layoff, and she showed she still has it.”

Thunder Road (G3)

The $101,000 Thunder Road (G3) likewise featured a wire job over the grassy mile. But the exuberant Goliad tore off at a much faster clip with Kazushi Kimura, who’s now 2-for-2 aboard the erstwhile underachiever. Opening up through splits of :23.36 and :46.07, Goliad was as many as 12 lengths clear by the six-furlong mark in 1:09.22. His advantage dwindled to three lengths as he crossed the wire in 1:33.57, but runner-up Dandy Man Shines never looked like threatening.

“He was much more improved than last time,” Kimura said, referring to Goliad’s just holding on in a second-level allowance Jan. 7. “He is a natural headstrong horse, so I was just trying to take it easy, as much as possible. I think he is a natural high cruising horse. He had his ears up and I think I was able to get him to relax a bit, that’s why today he finished up strong.”

Trained by Richard Mandella for Perry Bass II and Ramona Bass, Goliad showed promise in his juvenile season when second in the 2019 Cecil B. DeMille (G3). The homebred didn’t build on that in the ensuing years, in a career punctuated by layoffs, but finally broke through here at the age of seven. The War Front gelding sports a 16-4-4-1 mark with $262,371 in earnings.