June 12, 2024

Balnikhov makes fashionable arrival in Dinner Party; soft suits Fluffy Socks in Gallorette

Balnikhov wins the Dinner Party Stakes at Pimlico (Photo by Maryland Jockey Club)

Legendary jockey Frankie Dettori warmed up for his Preakness (G1) ride on Imagination by guiding the 5.40-1 Balnikhov to a last-to-first victory in the $500,000 Dinner Party (G3). Earlier on the turf at Pimlico, 3-5 favorite Fluffy Socks was much the best in the $99,000 Gallorette (G3), giving trainer Chad Brown his third straight win and sixth overall in this race.

Dinner Party (G3)

Invading from Santa Anita for trainer Phil D’Amato, Balnikhov was facing a soft turf course for the first time since his early days in France. But conditions agreed with the Irish-bred, who bided his time as the pace unfolded.

In contrast, the Brown-trained favorite, 19-10 Running Bee, was forwardly placed stalking longshot Helms Deep through fractions of :26.42, :52.77, and 1:18.71. Running Bee appeared poised to take control turning for home, only to have Highland Chief sneak through on the rail to accost him.

Neither could cope, however, with the powerful rush of Balnikhov who was bursting through to the fore. Maryland-bred Crabs N Beer, presumably bet down from 30-1 to 14-1 by hunch players on the occasion, rallied into the picture, but couldn’t threaten the decisive winner.

Balnikhov crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths clear while negotiating 1 1/8 miles in 1:58.90. Owned by Little Red Feather Racing, Madaket Stables, and Old Bones Racing Stable, the gelding returned $12.80.

Crabs N Beer had three lengths to spare over a one-paced Running Bee. Highland Chief flattened out another half-length back in fourth, trailed by Atone, Eons, English Bee, Beatbox, and the tailed-off Helms Deep. Emmanuel, Adhamo, and Funtastic Again were scratched.

Balnikhov was snapping a losing skid dating back to the 2023 San Francisco Mile (G3), and his other stakes victories came in the 2022 Bryan Station (G3) and Oceanside S. Most recently a close third in his April 27 title defense at Golden Gate Fields, the son of Adaay has collected six stakes placings. Notable among them are the American Turf (G2) and Santa Anita Mathis Mile (G2) as a sophomore and last year’s Eddie Read (G2) and Seabiscuit (G2). His scorecard stands at 26-7-5-4, and he’s nearing millionaire status with $987,767 in the bank.

Bred by T. de la Heronnierre and Gestut Zur Kuste in the Emerald Isle, Balnikhov was produced by Juddmonte castoff Leeward. The First Defence mare hails from the family of Grade/Group 1 winners Midships and Temida (dam of German highweight Tabera) and Group 1-placed multiple stakes victress Principal Role, who is responsible for 2023 Prix Noailles (G3) hero Flight Leader.

Gallorette (G3)

Madaket principal Sol Kumin turned the graded turf double, as Fluffy Socks is a homebred for his Head of Plains Partners.

Although Fluffy Socks had not won since the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) on 2023 Kentucky Derby Day, the six-year-old stalwart is often thereabouts in the division’s marquee events. The Gallorette represented class relief for the daughter of Slumber, and the soft ground only compounded her advantage over her rivals.

Indeed, Fluffy Socks had felt right at home in her only prior visit to Pimlico, in the 2020 Selima S. contested at the same 1 1/16-mile trip in similarly soggy conditions. She rolled by four lengths in that feature for two-year-old fillies, and her margin in the Gallorette was almost doubled to 7 3/4 lengths.

The pace figured to be modest at best in the scratch-reduced field. Blissful showed narrowly in front through an opening quarter in :25.60, but Tequilera went forward down the backstretch. Slogging through splits of :50.59 and 1:16.81, Tequilera had yet to be asked rounding the far turn.

Yet Fluffy Socks was just floating into contention with Irad Ortiz Jr. Initially reserved on the inside, the favorite angled out to take aim on the pacesetter at the top of the lane. The race was virtually over as soon as Fluffy Socks lengthened stride, and she imposed her authority in a final time of 1:49.79.

Five Towns, who arguably could have challenged on a quicker surface, rallied from last to finish a clear second by 2 1/4 lengths. Tequilera was in isolation in third, with five lengths back to Blissful, who headed the trailing Ascendancy. Sweet Dani Girl and Dana’s Beauty were withdrawn, along with the main-track-only pair of Cats in the Timber and Ninja Abarrio.

Fluffy Socks is now a five-time stakes winner with a resume of 26-6-9-4, $1,263,580. The bay followed up her Selima victory in the Jimmy Durante (G3) at Del Mar, added the 2021 Sands Point (G2) at three, and upset Spendarella in last year’s aforementioned Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.

But her true consistency is reflected in her 12 stakes placings, including the Del Mar Oaks (G1), the past two runnings of the Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga, and the Dec. 2 Matriarch (G1). She missed that Grade 1 title by a head, and connections kept her in training in hopes of achieving it this season.

Brown mentioned the July 13 Diana (G1) as a midsummer target back at the Spa. Note that Fluffy Socks earned an international perk as the Gallorette winner, an entry and travel stipend for Deauville’s Prix Jean Romanet (G1) on Aug. 18.

The well-named Kentucky-bred is out of Breakfast Time, herself a daughter of Kitten’s Joy and the stakes-winning Capote mare Costume Designer.

James W. Murphy S.

The stakes-laden card included a turf stakes for three-year-olds, the $100,000 James W. Murphy S., and newly-blinkered Fulmineo swept to a 2 1/4-length decision.

Trained by Arnaud Delacour for Starlight Racing and Mark B. Grier, the 2.30-1 favorite had been knocking on the proverbial door. Fulmineo was a troubled second in last fall’s Pilgrim (G2) and runner-up again in his past two, the March 9 Columbia S. at Tampa Bay Downs and in a Laurel allowance versus older horses.

The Bolt d’Oro colt broke from the far outside post in the Murphy, and jockey Flavien Prat had him settled well off the early leaders. But Fulmineo dragged his way closer by the half in :51.88, circled pace factors Speedyness and Tocayo turning for home, and pulled away to finish the mile in 1:44.78. Crystal Quest, Abrumar, and Massif rallied to round out the superfecta.

Fulmineo, a $90,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling, has earned $179,275 from a 9-2-4-1 line. His only unplaced efforts came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and the Sam F. Davis (G3) on the Tampa dirt, where he wasn’t disgraced in fifth.

The Maryland-bred was celebrating a homecoming in this first start in his home state. The bay was bred by Country Life Farm and Starr of Quality LLC, reflecting the name of his stakes-winning dam. Starr of Quality is by First Dude, the runner-up in the 2010 Preakness.