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JANUARY 4, 2014

by Kellie Reilly

Here is Volume II of the 2013 Reilly Turf Awards, honoring the distaffers who strode the North American turf.

Toughest Disqualification

NELLIE CASHMAN made a perfectly-timed move to take command in the Lake Placid, only to drift out in the final strides and carry Caroline Thomas and Watsdachances along with her. Although Nellie's waywardness probably hurt her own cause most of all, the infraction led to her demotion to third, and Caroline Thomas was handed her only win of the year. VIVA CARINA might have stolen the Santa Barbara even if she hadn't veered in and shut off the rallying Lady of Shamrock. But the interference definitely put paid to Lady of Shamrock's momentum, and Viva Carina's clever performance on the front end ended up being in vain.

Biggest Upset

VALIANT GIRL was ignored at odds of 42-1 in the My Charmer, but parlayed an astute, hedge-skimming ride by Matthew Rispoli into her biggest career victory. Then again, the Graham Motion trainee wasn't as rank an outsider as those odds implied; she'd set a course record in the Omnibus at Monmouth and had been thought worthy of a tilt at the Flower Bowl.

Johnny V cut the corner on Stephanie's Kitten in the Just a Game (NYRA/Adam Coglianese/Joe Labozzetta)
Most Inspired Ride That Made a Difference

Hall of Famer John Velazquez committed to an inside path aboard STEPHANIE'S KITTEN in the Just a Game, while Better Lucky took the overland route, and the differential in ground covered might well have been the key to her hard-fought decision. Granted, Better Lucky put her head in front at the top of the lane despite the ground loss, and Stephanie would have displayed her customary grit wherever she found herself on the course. Still, in such grim combat, any slight advantage can ultimately tip the scales. And Velazquez wasn't just riding blindly for luck either; he read Mizdirection's body language and immediately grasped that she'd come off the hedge enough for Stephanie to get through.

Most Frustrating Trip

Tannery (far left) nearly caught her loose-on-the-lead stablemate Laughing in the Flower Bowl (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)
TANNERY's one-run style makes her hostage to the pace scenario, and often forces her to swing way out wide for running room. Both factors cost her dearly in her two attempts versus males -- her hard-charging fourth in the Sword Dancer Invitational and her third in the Red Smith -- as well as in her near-miss to stablemate Laughing in the Flower Bowl. Tannery ran out of her skin in all three, and if the Alan Goldberg pupil were a little more tactically flexible, her resume would be even stronger than it already is. The daughter of Dylan Thomas overcame slow tempos when encountering rain-softened ground in both the E.P. Taylor and Sheepshead Bay (where she enjoyed the rare luxury of a rail trip), but as her fine efforts in defeat on firm turf prove, she's no one-dimensional mudlark.

Most Mysterious Fizzle to a Promising Campaign

CENTRE COURT won a 2012 Reilly Turf Award for "Best Campaign without a Grade/Group 1 Score," and the blueblood continued her razor-sharp form into early 2013. After dismissing her rivals in the Honey Fox in her four-year-old debut, the Rusty Arnold filly was impressive when garnering her richly-deserved Grade 1 in the Jenny Wiley. But those "overhead slams" were followed by a series of unforced errors, and Centre Court headed back to the locker room having blown a two-set lead.

Most Tantalizing What-Might-Have-Been

Qaraaba would have been a major player in Southern California (Benoit Photos)
When QARAABA uncorked a brilliant rally from dead last off a slow pace in the Robert J. Frankel, the last graded race of 2012, she stamped herself as a budding star. But that was the last we saw of the Simon Callaghan mare, who subsequently sustained a career-ending suspensory injury. Considering that Qaraaba had blown away a high-class type in Tiz Flirtatious, she would have been a major force to reckon with on the Southern California turf scene.

Most Crushing Piece of News

Woodbine Oaks heroine NIPISSING had every prospect of transferring her smart Polytrack form to turf, especially in light of her French family, and the Wonder Where shaped up as the logical spot to try the surface. Tragically, the classy three-year-old suffered a catastrophic breakdown in her turf debut and had to be euthanized. It was a sickening end for such a lovely filly.

Most Heartwarming Story

Glen Hill Farm enjoyed a terrific 2013, spearheaded by Keeneland yearling purchase Marketing Mix, but for me, WISHING GATE furnished their most poignant successes. A homebred carrying on the farm legacy, Wishing Gate is out of Glen Hill's multiple Grade 3-winning homebred Rich in Spirit, herself by Glen Hill product Repriced. While Rich in Spirit was fifth in the 2005 Del Mar Oaks in her lone foray into Southern California, Wishing Gate thrived on the circuit. She scored in the San Clemente in near stakes-record time, improved on her dam's record by finishing second in the Del Mar Oaks, and later added the Autumn Miss.

Best Turf Debut

EMOLLIENT, an overachiever on synthetic and an underachiever on dirt, smoothly handled the transition to turf in the final edition of the American Oaks at Hollywood. Although that race lacked the depth it once had in its heyday, the Juddmonte Farms homebred went on to underline her grass credentials with an admirable fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Laughing wasn't very funny to those trying to beat her (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)
Comeback Player of the Year

LAUGHING not only overcame a series of setbacks to return to the racecourse as a five-year-old, but under Goldberg's masterful handling, she got the last laugh by compiling her best-ever campaign. Resurfacing from an eight-month layoff in the Eatontown, the Dansili mare overhauled the ever-dangerous Dayatthespa and broke the Monmouth course record. Laughing took a different page from her playbook at Saratoga, using her tactical speed to secure the front-running job that no one wanted in either the Diana or Ballston Spa. She was sternly pressed in the stretch by Dream Peace in the former and by Pianist in the latter, but held on resiliently in both. It must have felt like a cruel joke to Chad Brown, trainer of Dayatthespa, Dream Peace and Pianist. Incredibly, Laughing was once again allowed to set a ludicrously slow pace in the Flower Bowl, with predictable results.

Good Citizenship Award

DISCREET MARQ was rock-solid dependable all season long, making her anything but discreet in this division. Placed in the Ginger Brew and Sweetest Chant for Jane Cibelli, the gray switched to Christophe Clement and began to blossom. Discreet Marq got away with grand theft in the Sands Point, shrugged off fierce early pressure to romp in the Eventail, and rallied from just off the pace in both the Del Mar Oaks and Pebbles. Her only two losses for Clement were fine seconds in the Garden City and Matriarch.

Best Performance to Diversify Portfolio

MIZDIRECTION will go down in history as a two-time queen of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, but her brief detour through the mile ranks shouldn't be overlooked. By bossing the field in the Buena Vista, the Mike Puype trainee reminded us that she was more than a downhill specialist.

Schiaparelli remains the only one to beat Egg Drop on turf (Benoit Photos)
Gamest Front-Running Display

Also for Puype, SCHIAPARELLI successfully carried her speed in her two-turn debut in the Royal Heroine Mile. The daughter of turf sprint maven Cambiocorsa was hounded by Egg Drop, but held sway determinedly in what turned out to be her career finale. Schiaparelli's effort took on added luster in hindsight, thanks to Egg Drop's ensuing heroics.

Best Escape from Traffic

HESSONITE appeared hopelessly buried in the Beaugay, until Junior Alvarado yanked her out, and she inhaled the leaders to win in hand. HALO DOLLY's situation wasn't quite as dire in the Solana Beach, but the two-time defending champion endured some anxious moments when bottled up on the fence. Rafael Bejarano found room, and the Jerry Hollendorfer mare burst through to turn the hat trick. By winning the same Del Mar stakes for the third consecutive year, Halo Dolly etched her name alongside Zenyatta, Flawlessly, Track Gal and Native Diver.

Most Amazing Rally

KITTEN'S DUMPLINGS earned this award a few times over, with her innocent-sounding name masking a ferocious ability to erase huge deficits. The Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred charged from a mere eight lengths back in the Edgewood, but rallied from 16 lengths behind in the Regret, 14 in the Lake George and 10 in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.

Marketing Mix outdueled Tiz Flirtatious (shadow roll) in the Gamely (Benoit Photos)
Most Riveting Stretch Drive

MARKETING MIX and TIZ FLIRTATIOUS put on a show twice this season. The pair first clashed in the Gamely, where Tiz Flirtatious briefly headed Marketing Mix as they moved in tandem into the stretch. But Marketing Mix got her momentum going on the straightaway and overpowered her rival by a head. In their rematch in the Rodeo Drive, both were all out to catch the loose-on-the-lead VIONNET. Although Marketing Mix was set down first, Tiz Flirtatious found the superior turn of foot to turn the tables by a head.

Most Heroic Performance in Defeat

DAYATTHESPA lists firm turf as a prerequisite, so her chances in the First Lady deteriorated as rapidly as the conditions at Keeneland. When the Brown filly didn't show her customary speed, and settled several lengths off the pace, fans could well have imagined that she was already miserable in the sudden downpour that turned the ground to yielding. But Dayatthespa was no faint-hearted lass who pouted when she didn't get her way. Launching a valiant bid on the inside rounding the far turn, she overtook Daisy Devine, only to have Better Lucky collar her on the outside. Surely Dayatthespa could have called it a day then, conceding that her rival was in the process of forging ahead. But Dayatthespa willed herself onward again, clawing back the yards, and forcing Better Lucky to keep finding more to hold her at bay. The margin should have been much bigger than a head, if Dayatthespa hadn't gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Egg Drop (right) fought back after being passed by Discreet Marq in the Matriarch (Benoit Photos)
Bravest Performance in Victory

EGG DROP flaunted the attitude of a gladiator who revels in hand-to-hand fighting, for she could easily have lost her past three. Instead, she sports a three-race winning streak, with margins of two heads and a nose. The Mike Mitchell filly fended off Appealing in the Yellow Ribbon (where My Gi Gi was squeezed back as collateral damage), then held Miss Pippa in the Goldikova. Those were but appetizers ahead of the main course, her most dramatic bout of all, in the Matriarch. Nabbed by Discreet Marq, who edged about a half-length clear, Egg Drop came back to force her nose in front, and turned defeat into victory.

Most Arrogant Dominance

Dank stormed 4 1/4 lengths clear in the Beverly D. (Four Footed Fotos)
The English filly DANK shipped to Arlington Park as an improving type for Sir Michael Stoute, and left Chicago as an absolute conqueror. The daughter of Dansili spread-eagled the field in the Beverly D., and as if the visual impression weren't jaw-dropping enough, she also flirted with Reluctant Guest's stakes and course record for 1 3/16 miles. Reluctant Guest clocked 1:53 1/5 in 1990, before times were recorded in hundredths, so Dank's 1:53.38 might be even closer to the mark than we can tell. Like a Viking raider in pursuit of easy plunder, she returned to pillage the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. That victory wasn't as flashy, but it was nonetheless decisive.

Final episode: International Turf Awards.



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