December 6, 2022

Surface switch proved no hurdle to Saratoga juvenile filly trio

Sippican Harbor (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)


Saratoga has not been good to trainers and owners hoping to race their two-year-old fillies long on the turf this summer. Over the last 10 days, three races in that division, carded at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, have come off the grass to be run at seven furlongs on the dirt.

Back in early July, Slieve Mish débuted at Belmont Park on the dirt, finishing last of six on a dirt track. Nonetheless, her connections were not unhappy that her Aug. 5 race came off the turf, and she vindicated that first loss with a length win.

Named for a mountain range in County Kerry, Ireland, the filly is owned by Waterville Lake Stable and trained by Christophe Clément. A $295,000 RNA at the Keeneland yearling sale, she was selected by John Meriwether and Clément.

“Christophe liked her first, and I like her second,” said bloodstock agent John Donaldson. “I loved her shoulder, and I thought she was really well-balanced. We were fortunate to buy her at a price consistent with our budget.”

“We watched her all winter and we were very excited,” said Meriwether. “You win a two-year-old race at Saratoga, that’s big time.”

She was ridden at Saratoga by Joel Rosario, who sat back from the early pace and closed five-wide to get up for the win.

Bred in Kentucky by Stonehaven Steadings, Slieve Mish is by Bernardini and out of the unraced Smart Strike mare Beckles Road.

Another week, another off-the-turf race: on Aug. 12, two distance races for fillies on the grass came off, and Sippican Harbor and Maryland-bred Brucia La Terra took advantage of the surface switch.

Sippican Harbor—another geographically inspired name, this one for a body of water in Maine—finished fifth in her turf début at 1 1/16 miles on opening weekend in Saratoga, and both her owner Lee Pokoik and trainer Gary Contessa felt confident that she could run on dirt.

They were right: she won by an astonishing 17 lengths as the favorite on a fast dirt track.

“Whatever she does, she does unbelievable,” said Contessa. “Her last work was five furlongs in 1:02, but she went the first three-eighths in :38.3, so she came home in :23.2. All you have to do is ask her.”

Pokoik purchased the filly at Contessa’s recommendation at last year’s Fasig-Tipton sale of preferred New York-breds for $260,000. She was an RNA at $110,000 this year at the March OBS sale, a fortuitous outcome based on her performance here.

“She’s got the brain of a four- or five-year-old,” said the trainer. “No pony to warm up, she doesn’t do anything in the paddock. She just makes it so easy.”

Sippican Harbor is by Orb and out of the unraced Blossomed (Deputy Minister). She is a half-sister to two six-figure runners.

Despite her spectacular maiden-breaker on dirt, Contessa wants to stretch her out and put her back on the grass.

“I think she’ll be a spectacular turf filly,” he said. “I’m looking at Kentucky Downs, and I think that the $400,000 race, a mile on the turf, might just be the right spot for her.

The Exacta Systems Juvenile for two-year-old fillies will be run on Sept. 1 at the Franklin, Kentucky, track.

First-time starter Brucia La Terra—”Scorch the Earth”—could be said to have done exactly that with a 3 3/4-length win when her race came off the grass. Tracking the pace, she made the lead at will under Manuel Franco, to the delight of trainer Barclay Tagg.

Brucia La Terra (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

“I have an affinity for fast horses,” he said with a grin when asked about her breeding. “I don’t care if they’re born in Saskatchewan. All they have to do is run.”

William Ferrone purchased the El Padrino filly as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale in 2017, paying $20,000 for her.

“Barclay gave me the OK,” he said, adding that he and Tagg have worked together for about seven years. “He made sure that she had really good conformation, and it’s just amazing what he’s done with her. I’m absolutely ecstatic.”

The bay filly, whose late sire stood in Pennsylvania, was bred in Maryland by Sallyellen M. Hurst and Hugh H. Hurst. She is out of Happy Refrain, who is by the late Not for Love, who stood in Maryland.

“I had a good feeling about her,” said Tagg, “but it’s hard to expect anything with a two-year-old.”

Earlier this month, on Aug. 5, a two-year-old filly actually got to race on the surface she was entered on…but that doesn’t mean that the race went according to plan.

Half of owner Scott Dilworth’s entry was scratched at the gate, leaving Lady T N T running for purse money only over the “good” dirt track. Leading every step of the way, she won by 5 1/2 lengths to break her maiden in her second start.

“She was training with the McKathens in Ocala, and I go down there a lot during the winter,” explained Dilworth. “I was watching her all winter and I was in love with her.

“She was fast, just fast. She looked like a stick of dynamite fixing to go off.”

Hence her name.

Dilworth and his wife Evan paid $335,000 for the pinhooked two-year-old that had sold as a yearling for $115,000. The Kentucky-bred is by Justin Phillip and out of the Salt Lake mare High Heeled Hope and is a half-sister to graded stakes winner Sweet Hope. She was bred by Castleton Lyons and is trained by Joe Sharp.

“That was a big surprise,” said Dilworth of the gate scratch of Mo Wheels Up. “Joe’s higher on her than he is on the one that won.”