Arguably unlucky to miss in a pair of Oaks last summer, Peter M. Brant’s Sistercharlie returned from a 10-month layoff to top a clean sweep of Saturday’s $350,000 Jenny Wiley (G1) for trainer Chad Brown. The 3-1 second choice muscled her way into the clear in the Keeneland stretch and kicked away by 2 1/4 lengths from stablemates Fourstar Crook and Off Limits.
Sistercharlie was making only her second stateside start. With Brant buying into following her victory in last April’s Prix Penelope (G3) at Saint-Cloud, the daughter of Myboycharlie was a troubled second in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1) in her Gallic finale. Sistercharlie joined Brown ahead of the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), where she was last early but closed fast and came up a neck shy of stablemate New Money Honey.
Instead of advancing through the three-year-old fillies’ turf program, however, Sistercharlie fell ill and developed a serious lung infection. Her connections wisely gave her significant time off to recover, regain her strength, and work her way back into fitness. The import rewarded them with a decisive score in a typically deep renewal of the Jenny Wiley, continuing the barn’s purple patch at the Keeneland spring meet.
Reserved in seventh early by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Sistercharlie bided her time about five lengths behind 5-2 favorite Dona Bruja. That Argentine celebrity was trying to duplicate her pacesetting heroics from the Endeavour (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. La Coronel, who’d given Dona Bruja too much latitude that day, was resolved to keep closer tabs here and tracked through splits of :23.48, :47.76, and 1:12.14.
By the top of the lane, Dona Bruja was all out trying to stave off La Coronel, and the Brown posse was massing in behind to attack. Sistercharlie, who had gained along the rail on the far turn, shifted out for running room. Off Limits, in between her and Cambodia, apparently reacted to Sistercharlie’s forceful will and deferred to her before commencing her own rally. Then the inside route that Sistercharlie had vacated now opened up, and Fourstar Crook surged into it.
But none had the turn of foot of Sistercharlie. Sweeping past the early leaders, and away from her stablemates, she finished 1 1/16 miles on the firm course in 1:41.41 to give Velazquez his 50th career Keeneland stakes win.
Fourstar Crook crossed the wire a neck up on Off Limits, who found belated momentum wider out and may not have seen her too well. La Coronel won her match race with Dona Bruja by a head, a hollow victory as they were fourth and fifth. Cambodia retreated to sixth, followed by Kitten’s Roar, Proctor’s Ledge, Bletchley, Ultra Brat, and Lovely Bernadette.
Sistercharlie’s resume now reads 7-4-2-0, $731,254. Her only unplaced effort was a fourth in the Prix Rose de Mai on heavy going for original trainer Henri-Alex Pantall.
Bred by Ecurie des Monceaux in Ireland, Sistercharlie was a €12,000 Arqana October yearling bargain. The bay was produced by the Galileo mare Starlet’s Sister, so named as a full sibling to Group 3 vixen Leo’s Starlet. The dam is also a half-sister to Grade/Group 1-placed stakes scorer Anabaa’s Creation.
Another Belmont Oaks alumna won on Saturday too, of course a Brown pupil. Uni, who rounded out the trifecta for his barn at Belmont last July, made a triumphant reappearance in the Plenty of Grace at Aqueduct — beating stablemate Fifty Five in an all-Brown result.
Quotes from Keeneland
Trainer Chad Brown: “She’s really matured and this was really a team effort. After her race last year, she got really sick on us. We have a great team of veterinarians that worked on her. She had a lung infection that turned real bad. We rested her and (owner) Peter Brant was very, very patient to give her all that time. My staff did a tremendous job bringing her back after such a lengthy layoff.
“You bring your best ones to Keeneland or you won’t have any luck here. Luckily I have a lot of good horses and my staff has been working overtime. All the credit goes to them.”
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez: “I got good position going to the first turn, a position where I wanted to be. She sat really well. By the three-eighths pole, I knew I was in a good position – just looking for where I was going to shoot through. I got through the rail. Had the best horse.”
On earning his 50th Keeneland stakes victory: “I’m blessed to ride for a lot of good trainers with a lot of good horses. Trainers like Chad Brown give me the opportunities.”
Jockey Javier Castellano on runner-up Fourstar Crook: “She had some things against her because she was in the way outside post position. I think maybe a mile and an eighth is better for her. I liked everything she did today. I liked the way she finished. I know the winner is one of the best fillies in the country and she had a very good trip.”
Joel Rosario, who rode Off Limits in third: “That was a good trip. She was a little bit tired coming home, but I got through, and she ran well. The winner ran a master race. For a moment, I thought I was going to get second. She came out of the gate great and was in a good spot. She was nice and comfortable, and ran beautifully. When the winner came from the inside, she was already flying.”
Jockey Jose Lezcano on La Coronel’s fourth: “She broke good. I was in the place I wanted to be. She tried hard, but that big filly (Sistercharlie) came running. We weren’t going to catch her.”
Jose Ortiz on his trip aboard fifth Dona Bruja: “I didn’t want to be there (on the lead) today. She broke out of the gate really sharp and I wasn’t able to get her back and set her behind somebody. She was very keen the first part of the race; I think the early fractions killed me a little bit. The plan was to sit behind somebody – second, third or fourth. But she broke really well. I wish I could have taken her back.”