Rachel's Valentina: Did we just see the Spinaway winner?
The Stonestreet Stables homebred was bet down to even-money favoritism off a morning line of 6-5 -- a price that I had described as "awfully short" based on both her parents' resumes and trainer Todd Pletcher's pre-race comments.
And as Pletcher forecast, Rachel's Valentina did indeed break a tad slowly. And she was under a ride from John Velazquez pretty much from that point forward, as she was urged while racing a couple of lengths off the hot pace of :22.25 and :45.75.
But rounding the far turn, Rachel's Valentina began to hit her stride. Despite going four wide into the stretch, the bay kept increasing her momentum. She leveled off with a raking, ground-devouring stride, and in keeping with her pedigree, she looked stronger the farther she went. The blueblood mastered front-running Awesome Dame inside the final furlong. Once Velazquez knew that Rachel's Valentina was responding, he just waved the whip before her eyes as a gentle signal, and she pulled two lengths clear in a final time of 1:10.39.
This was a most encouraging debut on several levels. Aside from the start, the ground loss, the inadequate six-furlong distance, and the fact that both parents were well beaten on debut themselves, Rachel's Valentina handily defeated two rivals who had the benefit of experience. Runner-up Awesome Dame and third-placer Big World had finished in the same order behind Pletcher's Tonasah at Belmont Park. That's the same Tonasah who infamously ran off and had to be scratched from her intended debut in the Astoria.
Having been overly cautious regarding Rachel's Valentina's win chances here, I'm now at the risk of going from one extreme to the other, if not completely overboard. But since I expected her to improve substantially off this run, I'm tempted to stick to that notion and get my hopes really high. If she can win first time out at six furlongs at Saratoga, what might she do with time and added ground, like her champion parents?
As the blog title says, I'm already thinking Spinaway (G1) on September 5. Tack on that seventh furlong, and she'll be better. Things ought to get fun when it comes time for two turns.
In an interesting twist, that's likely to put Rachel's Valentina on a collision course with Schuylerville (G3) winner Off the Tracks, who's a daughter of past Stonestreet star Curlin. Remember that Curlin is also the sire of Rachel Alexandra's first foal, the three-year-old colt Jess's Dream, who's yet to start for Kiaran McLaughlin.
In the post-race interview, Barbara Banke of Stonestreet noted that the Pletcher team was quite confident in Rachel's Valentina today, and also commented on Jess's Dream:
Additional quotes from NYRA:
Barbara Banke: “She’s a very, very special filly. She is a favorite at the farm. We knew she was fast but this was a tough race. I was a little nervous; I’m so glad it went well. She was awesome.”
John Velazquez: “It was busy until we got to the rail. I got her running and she went right away. There were no issues saving any ground, going four wide; she really runs.”
Todd Pletcher: “I thought she ran fantastic. We were a little concerned that six (furlongs) might be a little quick for her but she’s just so professional and talented. She broke OK, kind of put herself into a decent spot and it felt like the further she went the stronger she galloped. I love the way she finished, she galloped out extremely professional. Before and after the race, it was everything you can hope for in a debut.”
“I think there’s time (to consider the Spinaway). I’ll talk to Barbara and everybody and see what they want to do. I think she’s a filly that wants to stretch out and run two turns and has a big future, so we won’t rush anything.”
Photos courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Susie Raisher.