Stephanie's Kitten repeats in Flower Bowl, earns another try at BC Filly & Mare Turf
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Stephanie's Kitten shrugged off a frustrating summer by winning the $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park. If that evoked a sense of deja vu, it should have. For the exact same line could have been written in 2014, or on Saturday. Rebounding once again from losses in the Diana (G1) and Beverly D. (G1), the Chad Brown mare readily overhauled pacesetting stablemate Danza Cavallo and forged 1 1/2 lengths clear.
The most significant difference from a year ago was the ground: firm turf in 2014, but soft going Saturday prompted a switch from the inner to the Widener turf. The course condition played a role in the disappointing effort by Irish shipper Curvy, who couldn't pick up and crossed the wire fifth as the 3-2 favorite.
Stephanie's Kitten became just the second two-time winner of the Flower Bowl, emulating Riskaverse (2004-05). But she doesn't want to emulate Riskaverse in another respect -- namely her failures to break through in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). With the Flower Bowl being a "Win & You're In" event, Stephanie's Kitten has earned another try at the marquee event in her division. She was a fine second to loose-on-the-lead stablemate Dayatthespa in last year's running at Santa Anita. But this year's renewal at Keeneland may not suit her as well. Not only is it a tad shorter at 1 3/16 miles, but the Kitten's Joy mare has been unplaced in both of her prior tries on the Keeneland turf, in the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and the 2014 Jenny Wiley (G1).
Nevertheless, Stephanie's Kitten is already a Breeders' Cup winner, having landed the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf, when it was still a Grade 2. And as Brown noted after the Flower Bowl, she's a "very rare" creature to be a Grade 1 competitor from the ages of two through six. That back class may have a way of asserting itself in the Filly & Mare Turf, especially if she encounters the soft ground that she copes with so well, and her rivals don't.
Under Irad Ortiz Jr., the 2-1 second choice secured a much better early position than usual, thanks to the dawdling pace. She saved ground from her rail post, tucked just a cuple of lengths behind Danza Cavallo. The fractions weren't recorded on the chart, but for whatever it's worth, I scribbled them while posted in running as :26.45, :52.78, 1:18.10 and 1:42.28. Stephanie's Kitten angled out and took aim on the longtime leader down the stretch. Powering home in the final furlong, she slogged 1 1/4 miles in 2:06.23.
British invader Mutatis Mutandis reported home a further 3 1/4 lengths astern in third. That prevented an all-Brown trifecta, as Watsdachances was a non-threatening fourth.
Watsdachances was the promoted winner of the Beverly D. last out, upon the disqualification of British raider Secret Gesture, who had inconvenienced Stephanie's Kitten when drifting out. Stephanie's Kitten, third past the line, was awarded second. She had also taken the runner-up spot in the 2014 Beverly D. to the international Euro Charline. The Beverly D. is held over the same 1 3/16-mile distance as this year's Filly & Mare Turf, making Stephanie's Kitten look more like a place chance in the Breeders' Cup -- unless it's a bog, putting a premium on stamina.
Quotes courtesy of NYRA:
Trainer Chad Brown, Stephanie's Kitten:
It's a little similar to last season when in her first couple starts she didn't run well, and then she rounded into strong form, right into the Breeders' Cup. This year it was a little different in that she kicked off the year with a win in the Hillsborough (G3), but her form then regressed and we were asking ourselves the same questions. A combination of her currently training as well as she has all year and catching soft ground the last two starts resulted in her turning the season around.
Her last two breezes were as good as I've seen her breeze in a year. You look at her - she's run at the Grade 1 level from age 2 to 6 - that's very rare.
I just asked Irad [Ortiz, Jr.] to warm her up good in the post parade and if they're not going fast, you can lay as close as you want. I let him know Danza Cavallo would be on the lead because that was our plan. Irad executed a beautiful trip.
She ran great. We supplemented her into the race on short notice given the weather. She's a filly that's always trained really well and hasn't performed in her past couple starts, which has been disappointing because she works well. She finally got a chance to run on soft ground, so it's a Grade 1 and we had to supplement her, but I wanted to take it because she's a different animal on soft ground. She's a quality filly.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. on Stephanie's Kitten: "I had a great trip. I was able to save ground, she was so game in the stretch, and everything went perfect. She loved the ground today. She's so confident over it."
Jockey Javier Castellano on runner-up Danza Cavallo: "My trip was beautiful, it couldn't be any better than that. I went right to the lead, the fractions were very, very slow. My horse handled the [soft turf] so well. I was just second-best today. I got beat by the better horse in the race."
Jockey Wayne Lordan on Curvy, fifth as the favorite: "She didn't like the ground at all. It was too soft for her. She couldn't extend over it. It's unfortunate."
Stephanie's Kitten photo courtesy NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography.