Questing posts decisive victory in Alabama
In Lingerie proved best of the rest, finishing eight lengths in front of Via Villaggio while Zo Impressive was another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth. Grace Hall, the eve-money favorite, followed in fifth by 12 3/4 lengths. Sea Island and Uptown Bertie, who was taken out of the race early after being squeezed between horses entering the first turn, completed the order under the wire.
"In these situations, you finish second and tip your hat to the winner," acknowledged Todd Pletcher, trainer of In Lingerie. "There's nothing else we could have done. We got exactly the trip we wanted. The fractions were obviously plenty stout enough. The other filly was too good today. We were second best."
"Going that fast I thought (Questing) would have come back to me a little bit and maybe make it an interesting race, but that wasn't the case," said John Velazquez, who had piloting duties aboard the runner-up. "She kept running. Going to the half-mile pole I was saying 'I think I got it, we're going fast enough.'
"Psshh. I moved up a little bit, and the winner took off."
Zo Impressive was pulled up and vanned off after the wire. Celeste Kunz, on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, explained that the gray lass suffered a fracture to her right front cannon bone.
"It was what we describe as a lateral condylar fracture. That is the bone above the ankle," Kunz described. "It was obvious that it was displaced, but it did not fracture the skin. A compression boot was put on, which fits and looks like a ski boot and contains that fracture. She was put on the horse ambulance and vanned back to her barn, where Dr. (James) Hunt was going to take X-rays to see the extent of the injury.
"It is a career-threatening injury depending on the extent of the fracture and if any other bones were involved, but it does not appear life-threatening at this point. She was able to walk off the ambulance."
Despite her insurmountable lead in the lane, Questing didn't make it easy on her rider while weaving back and forth across the track in what appeared to be vehement protest to the whip. The sophomore filly and Ortiz are now three-for-three, having previously taken an optional claimer at Belmont and the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, the latter of which was Ortiz's first Grade 1 victory. The winner's share from the Alabama doubled Questing's earnings to $674,874 and her line now reads 9-4-1-1.
"I was thinking (the pace) was too fast, but I liked the way she was doing it," McLaughlin said. "I looked behind her, and a lot of them were riding hard to keep up. I was nervous about the fractions, but she was doing it the right way.
"I think she was ducking each way a little bit today, instead of all the time left-handed, but as long as she's five in front I'm not worried about it. I don't think she was getting tired. She's more just looking around, ducking a little bit.
"She's a special filly. I'm glad we have her on dirt here in North America and that we tried her on it. She could have won today going a mile and a half."
With Saturday's impressive display, Questing is now the one to catch in the Eclipse race for champion three-year-old filly honors.
"It appears that way right now," the horseman stated when asked if Questing was the top three-year-old filly in the United States. "She's definitely the best three-year-old filly in America on the dirt."
The bay miss debuted in her native Great Britain, breaking her maiden at Newbury last June before recording a pair of neck misses when third in the Group 3 Prestige Stakes and second in the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes. Then trainer John Gosden shipped Questing to the United States for the Breeders' Cup, but she could do no better than fifth while trying dirt for the first time in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 4.
Questing wasn't seen again until McLaughlin saddled her for a close fourth back on the turf at Gulfstream Park in mid-March, and then ran off-the-board when trying Belmont's grass in mid-May. It wasn't until McLaughlin switched his charge back to dirt that Questing found new life, and she has been unstoppable since.
The Darley-bred filly, who ran in the Godolphin blue for the first time in the CCA Oaks, is out of the dual-listed winning Seeking the Gold mare Chercheuse, who concluded her time on track with a third in the C.E.R.F. Handicap at Del Mar in 2003. Chercheuse is herself a daughter of the Storm Bird mare Sassy Bird, who also produced Group 2-placed listed diva Asawer and is probably best known as a full sister to Group 2-winning sire Mukaddamah. Another of Sassy Bird's siblings is the granddam of multiple Grade 1 sprinter Switch.
Questing's fourth dam is noted Broodmare of the Year and 1966 Alabama queen Natashka, and this black-type rich female line includes the likes of multiple Group 1 stars, highweights and half-siblings Ezzoud and Distant Relative; Grade 3-winning top sire Elusive Quality; Group 1 Irish St Leger heroine Dark Lomond; German and Italian champion Gold and Ivory; and Grade/Group 1 scorers Gregorian and Capote Belle.
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