Desormeaux makes right ‘Call,’ shocks Tepin in First Lady

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October 8th, 2016

“If you were an opposing general trying to figure out how to neutralize the shock effect of Tepin’s acceleration, you’d order a ferocious early pace. Stretch out the battlefield, so to speak, and hope that the champion turf mare wouldn’t have quite the same sprint for home.”

So went the intro to my recap of the March 12 Hillsborough (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs, after Isabella Sings tried to upset Tepin by running off through blistering fractions. The ploy didn’t work. Tepin had time to catch the Todd Pletcher trainee by the end of the nine-furlong test – in course-record time.

In Saturday’s $400,000 First Lady (G1) at Keeneland, another Pletcher trainee, Photo Call, ripped that page from her stablemate’s playbook and scored a monstrous 29-1 dethroning of Tepin.

Or to put it more accurately, Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux executed the tactical masterclass, throwing trainer instructions out of the window.

“I’m sorry, Todd,” Desormeaux quipped. “He told me to cover her up, but that wasn’t possible. That was not going to happen.”

It will be fascinating to see what repercussions this result has for Tepin’s next title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Not as far as Tepin herself is concerned, of course. A tactical blunder ended her eight-race winning streak, and she’ll head to Santa Anita as a formidable a presence.

But Tepin’s loss may embolden Limato’s connections to take a crack in the Mile, rather than the Turf Sprint. And the Santa Anita-based Mile hopes – Midnight Storm, etc. – are loaded with speed. As if they needed more of a reason to go full throttle, they’ve just gotten it.

Photo Call, an Irish-bred daughter of Galileo, was purchased for $3 million at Keeneland last November. She was in demand as the reigning Rodeo Drive (G1) winner who had just finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) for Graham Motion.

Her new owners, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, could have retired her as a broodmare. Instead, she was brought back for a five-year-old campaign. That decision yielded handsome dividends here.

Photo Call was dropping back markedly in trip. She’d shown tactical speed when winning the April 2 Orchid (G3), finishing second in the July 9 Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3), and ending up unplaced in the Waya (G3) and Glens Falls (G3) at Saratoga. But early foot in long-distance events usually isn’t comparable to the speed required around a mile.

Even if you were clever enough to envision her going to the front, surely sharper types like Tepin and Just a Game (G1) romper Celestine would have been poised in fire-breathing fashion?

Not quite. The inexplicable aspect of Desormeaux’s wizardry was getting Photo Call to open up on the field without using too much energy. Forging three lengths clear through an opening quarter in :24.10 on the firm turf, she widened that margin to seven lengths at the half in :47.29. An honest pace, but hardly breakneck, yet the rest of the field was content to sit back.

Celestine lobbed along in second, shadowed by Tepin, as though Photo Call were bound to come back to them. But a mare of her proven stamina was never going to stop. They had to go out after her, which I thought for certain they’d do down the backstretch.

Again, they made no move, and Photo Call continued bowling along merrily. She was 10 lengths up at the six-furlong split in 1:10.73.

Finally, Julien Leparoux on Tepin and Junior Alvarado on Celestine displayed signs of urgency. Tepin responded easily the better of the pair, and the 2-5 favorite commenced her bid swinging into the stretch. The margin was steadily eroded, but much too late. Tepin had conceded far too much ground, and her rally fell 2 3/4 lengths short at the wire.

Photo Call negotiated the mile in 1:35.62 and sparked mutuels of $61.40, $10.60 and $5.60.

“That was very amazing,” assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale said. “We owe it all to Kent (Desormeaux), actually. He did an amazing ride. We’ve obviously very pleased with the outcome. I think the mile (distance of the race) really did it.”

Tepin was best of the rest by 3 1/2 lengths from Celestine. Team Tepin put the best construction they good in the circumstances.

“We had a good trip,” Leparoux said. “The winner got loose on the lead but other than that we had a good trip. I can’t take anything away from the winner. The winner ran a big race and my filly ran a big race, too.

“I had to ride my own race. There wasn’t much I could do on the backside. I can't (move up) that early. She’s still Tepin. She is still an amazing filly. She ran her race.”

“We hoped for the best,” assistant trainer Norman Casse said, “but this is why we picked this race in particular.

“We didn’t really want to run her ‘A’ race today. The goal has always been the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a repeat there. I haven't lost any confidence in her, I think we are still set up to do that and she’ll move forward from this race.

“At the top of the lane you could tell that (Photo Call) had too much of a lead and she kicked away. (Tepin) beat another really good horse. Bill Mott’s horse (Celestine) is a good horse. I just think (Photo Call) got away from us a little bit and that’s all it is. This is horse racing. 

“I don’t think (Tepin) ran disrespectfully; she ran a good race. I just think the other horse had a better trip and things went her way and we got beat today.”

British shipper Nemoralia rallied for fourth, followed by She’s Not Here, Cash Control, Onus, Irish invader Now or Never, Secret Someone, and Mississippi Delta.

Photo Call improved her record to 21-6-3-4, $827,096. She was also completing a big-race double for her family. Her dam, the Group 3-winning Rock of Gibraltar mare Theann, is a half-sister to Irish classic and multiple Group 1 star Halfway to Heaven, whose juvenile daughter Rhododendron just captured Friday’s Fillies’ Mile (G1) at Newmarket. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has indicated she may be bound for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) at Santa Anita.



Photo courtesy Keeneland/Coady Photography