Typically a pace presence throughout her stakes career, Empyrean Stables’ Zipessa turned over a new leaf to upset Saturday’s $400,000 First Lady (G1) at odds of 16-1. Her first Grade 1 coup also netted her a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), in which she’d finished a closing fifth last year.
Indeed, the Mike Stidham trainee had scored her only other stakes victory on the front end, inthe 2016 Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3). Zipessa almost wired the September 9 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) last out, just worn down late by the high-class Miss Temple City. Her near-miss in the July 8 Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) came in pace-prompting fashion, along with her placings in last year’s Beverly D. (G1) and Rodeo Drive (G1). On the rare occasions she’d tried more patient tactics in stakes, the City Zip mare’s best results were thirds in the Mint Julep (G3) and Eatontown (G3).
In the First Lady, however, Zipessa let the other front-running type, Hawksmoor, go, and jockey Joe Bravo rated her as far as five lengths back in fourth early. Hawksmoor was loose on the lead through slow fractions of :24.59 and :49.19 on the firm turf, but Zipessa, by this point up into second, was cutting the deficit at the six-furlong mark in 1:14.30. Overtaking the pacesetter in midstretch, Zipessa kicked 1 1/2 lengths clear, finished the mile in 1:36.99, and rewarded her loyalists with $35.20.
The 5-1 Hawksmoor, who secured a much easier lead than might have been forecast with Zipessa in the field, held second by a neck from 2-1 favorite Roca Rojo. Dona Bruja likewise had an insurmountable task trying to rally from last, winding up fourth. Dickinson had less of an excuse, since she’d been in a stalking spot and simply failed to fire in fifth. One Liz and German shipper Delectation rounded out the order under the wire.
Zipessa has now amassed $783,550 from her 16-5-3-3 line. Bred by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and Sally S. Humphrey, the chestnut was a $30,000 Keeneland November weanling who brought $67,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling. The five-year-old is out of the stakes-placed Horse Chestnut mare Precious Princess, from the family of Grade 3 scorer Dearest. Further back on the page, one finds Grade 1 hero Flashy Bull and Canadian champion turf horse Perfect Soul, winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland in 2003.
Quotes from Keeneland
Winning rider Joe Bravo on the tactical change-up: “That’s the great thing about Michael (Stidham) and his team. He let me go out there and ride with an open mind. This filly, she can relax. She’s gotten bigger, smarter, with age she’s just gotten to be a better horse. She ran a big race last time, and she’s just getting better and better.”
Trainer Mike Stidham on Zipessa: “She had this one (her first Grade 1 win) coming. She worked hard for it. She’s a really sweet, special filly. Joe Bravo is definitely the key to her success today along with (being) a really nice filly.
“We’re certainly going to be looking at it (the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf) hard.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux on runner-up Hawksmoor: “She ran her race and we had a great trip, but we were second best. She ran a great race. (She came out a little bit at the start) but she does that sometimes and with nobody to her outside we could do that. It did not cost her anything. Just second best today.”
Javier Castellano, rider of Roca Rojo, third as the favorite: “I didn’t have much pace in the race. Unfortunately, they went slow. It was too difficult for a horse to come from behind and to make a run. My filly still did. She can run, but it was too late.”
Jockey Declan Cannon on Dona Bruja in fourth: “I had a good trip. I was at the back and my filly settled OK after the first three furlongs. I would have preferred to be a little closer because it didn’t feel like they were going that fast. Then she leveled off in the stretch. But she ran her race.”