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Better Lucky stuns eventful Matriarch at 35-1

Better Lucky turned the tables on Dayatthespa (far left with yellow cap), who suffered a self-inflicted mishap on the first turn (Benoit Photos)
Godolphin Racing's Better Lucky was no match for leading three-year-old turf filly Dayatthespa last time out at Keeneland, but after a bizarre mishap to the 8-5 favorite in Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park, Better Lucky went on to post a 35-1 upset.

Entering the clubhouse turn, Dayatthespa was reserved in a stalking spot along the inside. She was tucked just behind the front-running Summer Soiree, and with Future Generation tracking to her outside, through an opening quarter in :23 1/5.

Suddenly, Dayatthespa lost her action as she prepared to leave the first turn. She bobbled badly and took a couple of kangaroo-like hops, nearly unseating jockey Javier Castellano. Somehow Castellano kept his balance in the saddle, and regained his grip of a briefly dangling rein. In the mayhem, Dayatthespa totally lost her position and found herself farther back, but was still in the race. A few of her rivals, including Better Lucky, were also forced out in consequence.

Meanwhile, Summer Soiree had spurted 4 1/2 lengths clear through a half in :46. She had set the pace in the 2011 Matriarch as well before being collared late by Star Billing, and the Team Valor International runner was employing the same tactics, only going considerably faster this time. Future Generation and Better Lucky, her nearest pursuers, began to close the gap after Summer Soiree reached six furlongs in a testing 1:09 3/5.

Better Lucky was quickening better than Future Generation, though. Taking dead aim on Summer Soiree in the stretch, the Tom Albertrani trainee surged past to score by far her biggest career victory. Better Lucky, a one-length winner, covered the firm-turf mile in 1:34 with Eddie Castro aboard.

"I had a good break," Castro said, "but I really got scared when (Dayatthespa) had trouble near the fence. After that I had a good trip. My filly gave me a real nice kick and that was good enough to win today."

Tiz Flirtatious made good late progress to get up for second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Summer Soiree. The runner-up's rider, Rafael Bejarano, believed that the incident on the first turn was costly.

"I had a good trip," Bejarano said, "but it cost me the race when (Dayatthespa) hit the rail and it forced me to come out. I was in great position, but when she came out I had to hold my horse. I had a good trip after that, she came running; but I think my horse would have won the race if not for that incident."

"I couldn't be happier," said Marty Jones, the trainer of Tiz Flirtatious. "It would have been nice if she could have won, but just to have run against those fillies in that type of race and run like that was really something. She galloped out in front. When Dayatthespa had her problem on the turn, it kind of cost Bejarano position and he got back a little further than he would have liked. But she ran super."

Future Generation reported home another three-quarters of a length back in fourth. Dayatthespa never stopped trying in fifth, and the beaten favorite's connections reported that she felt intimidated early.

"My filly was scared a little bit running inside horses," Castellano said. "She got shy of that other horse (Future Generation) and jumped out around the first turn. She wasn't the same after that."

"When she started making the turn," co-owner Steve Laymon said, "Ramon (Dominguez on Future Generation) came up beside her. It looked like she had room in there, but the rail may have been higher than she's used to and it seems like she spooked from the rail. She took a couple of leaps and that was about it. She's a high-energy filly, but she's never done anything like this."

Irish shipper Emulous, who was slow to move when the gate opened, wound up sixth.

"I was a little disappointed," jockey Pat Smullen said. "She broke slowly. I know that can be a European thing, but is not normal in her. She really quickens out of there, and I was never really comfortable through the race. She did not run her race."

Star Billing beat only one home in her title defense, the ever-trailing Vamo a Galupiar.

Better Lucky has been game and consistent since switching to turf, and her virtue was rewarded on Sunday (Benoit Photos)
Better Lucky rewarded her loyalists with $72.20, $26.20 and $10.60, and the daughter of Ghostzapper also keyed healthy $1 exotics worth $208.60 (exacta), $3,018.80 (trifecta) and $8,403.50 (4-1-7-8 superfecta).

Better Lucky was winning for the first time since her photo-finish decision in the Grade 2 Sands Point on May 28 at Belmont Park, which happened to be her turf debut. At Saratoga over the summer, she missed by a neck to Centre Court in the Grade 2 Lake George on July 25, then finished fifth to Stephanie's Kitten and Centre Court in the Grade 2 Lake Placid on August 19. Better Lucky next appeared in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on October 13, where she checked in third to Dayatthespa and Centre Court.

Albertrani's assistant Joshua Flores commented on the tale of two trips.

"Dayatthespa got an easy (wire-to-wire) trip in Keeneland," Flores noted. "Unfortunately for her, it was a different story here, with that trouble on the turn. We were in the perfect spot today, right off the lead. It seems she likes to run from right off the pace."

"She's never really been beaten very far in any of those races," Godolphin's Jimmy Bell said of Better Lucky. "She's very game, tries and is dead honest. She had a little bit better pace today, kind of sat in the garden spot and was able to kick on and kick clear. The race shape favored her a little more today than the Queen Elizabeth.

"I was surprised at her odds. I really felt if they (the public) respected Dayatthespa, you wouldn't necessarily think that we'd be a 30-1 shot. She's really blossomed, which gives us something to look forward to.

"I would think she'd surely be racing next year," Bell added. "This is certainly a great way to cap off this year. She'll probably get a little vacation in Florida. There are some good spots to pick, but right now we're just going to enjoy what she's accomplished and how she's kept going."

Prior to switching to turf, Better Lucky had won twice on off tracks -- a 4 1/4-length debut score on Aqueduct's inner oval last December and a 5 1/4-length romp in an entry-level allowance at Belmont on May 2. In between, she had tried stakes company on a fast track, finishing a disappointing fifth in the January 14 Ruthless and third in the February 25 Busher.

Bred by Darley in Kentucky, Better Lucky has compiled a record of 9-4-1-2, $438,950. The bay is a half-sister to Canadian Grade 3 winner Sahara Heat and to the unraced Forest City Girl, the dam of Panamanian champion Outskirt Lady. Better Lucky is out of the Grade 2-winning Seeking the Gold mare Sahara Gold, who is herself a full sister to the stakes-placed Ensenada, dam of this year's Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap and Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap hero Casino Host.

Better Lucky's second dam, Desert Stormer, famously defeated males in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint. Other prominent family members include unbeaten Group 1 queen White Moonstone and Canadian champion Sound Reason.

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