April 22, 2019

Sippican Harbor sails to upset victory in Spinaway, WAYI berth to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies

Sippican Harbor upsets the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga under jockey Joel Rosario for trainer Gary Contessa on September 1, 2018 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

by Teresa Genaro

Just shy of three weeks ago, Gary Contessa, standing in the winner’s circle, said of Sippican Harbor, “Everything she does is unbelievable.”

The filly had just broken her maiden in an off-the-turf seven-furlong race, leading gate to wire and crushing the field by 17 lengths. She’d made her first start on the turf; now, Contessa knew he had a dirt horse.

And he had enough confidence to enter the two-year-old back on relatively short rest, confidence that she rewarded with a thrilling, decisive, last-to-first win in Saturday’s $350,000 Spinaway Stakes (G1), a “Win & You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 2.

Breaking from post 6 in a field of 12, Sippican Harbor and Joel Rosario dropped way back, running at the back of the field by nearly a dozen lengths. And there they stayed through most of the seven furlongs, unhurried, unintimidated by their rivals, which included even-money favorite Chasing Yesterday, a half-sister to American Pharoah trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith.

Rosario encouraged the dark bay filly heading up the backstretch, and she responded eagerly, making steady ground. As the field turned for home, they swung seven-wide. Unhampered by the extra distance, she sailed past horses to hit the wire two lengths in front of Restless Rider, demonstrating a versatile running style that impressed her trainer.

“She ate dirt,” he said. “She’s covered with dirt. That’s the kind of two-year-old you want, one that is versatile. You can send her or you can take her back and come from last.”

“I thought I had a good horse,” owner Lee Pokoik said. “I’ve been watching this horse since early June up here, and she’s a special horse.”

Cassies Dreamer just missed second by a neck and was followed by Bella Ciao. Nonna Madeline and Reflect came next, while Chasing Yesterday finished seventh.

“We took a whole a lot of dirt,” said Smith, “and as you can see she just isn’t used to it. You hate to come all the way here to school, but it certainly was a really good schooling race. She jumped and jumped and jumped so much that she wore herself out. I think this race will actually do her a whole lot of good and we’ll see the real her the next time.”

Completing the order under the wire were Virginia Eloise, Catherinethegreat, Baby Nina and Guacamole.

Pokoik has owned horses for more than two decades, and Contessa has been training for him for that long, but the Spinaway is their first graded win together.

“This is #1,” Pokoik said. “We’ve had some good horses, but none like this one.”

“We’ve bought horses at this level but this is the first to really come through for us,” Contessa added. “And Lee deserves it. He spends his money.”

Contessa bought the filly as a yearling last year at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale, paying $260,000 for the daughter of Orb. She was entered in this year’s OBS March sale but failed to meet her reserve, bringing a final bid of $110,000. She’s now earned $242,650.

The Kentucky-bred filly is out of the Deputy Minister mare Blossomed and is a half-sister to a trio of six-figure earners. She was bred by Justin and Kalvert Spaeth and Equine Equity Partners LLC.

“I really thought she was a turf horse,” Contessa admitted. “Shows you what I know.

“She is just the coolest horse in the world, and today she stamped herself. She’s legit, and we’re looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup.”