Serengeti Empress dug down deep in the stretch of Sunday’s $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) and held off two of her challengers, but the 3-5 favorite could not withstand the late surge of Lady Apple. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who started Midnight Bisou’s 2019 Eclipse Award campaign in this spot, the 8-1 chance stayed on best under a ground-saving Ricardo Santana Jr.
Lady Apple had another resume point in common with Midnight Bisou, for both had finished third in their respective years in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Unlike the champion distaffer, though, Lady Apple has yet to reach the Grade 1 podium. Her stakes wins have come so far at the Grade 3 level, in last season’s Fantasy (G3), Iowa Oaks (G3), and Remington Park Oaks (G3) when last seen in Sept. 29.
But as a daughter of Curlin, Lady Apple was eligible to improve with maturity. That might be coming to the fore as she upended three Grade 1 winners at Sam Houston on Sunday, and turned the tables on Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in a seven-length form reversal from Churchill Downs.
Lady Apple was also capping a big weekend for comebackers who finished their sophomore campaigns on the same night at Remington – Pegasus World Cup (G1) romper Mucho Gusto hadn’t raced since his fourth in the Oklahoma Derby (G3).
As expected, Serengeti Empress sped right to the lead and carved out splits of :23.40, :47.31, and 1:12.37 on the fast track. Out for a Spin, last spring’s 52-1 Ashland (G1) shocker, was her nearest pursuer. Lady Apple broke from post 4, but Santana was able to drop her over to the rail before entering the clubhouse turn and sat in a tracking third. The other Curlin, Falls City (G2) heroine Mylady Curlin, was draped alongside.
Street Band, the Cotillion (G1) star, bided her time early but made a bold bid out wide turning for home. Ranging up to join Serengeti Empress and an advancing Mylady Curlin, Street Band appeared to have the momentum until upper stretch, when she flattened out. Neither was Mylady Curlin making any more headway.
The stubborn Serengeti Empress kept finding more to cling to her advantage from the outside pair. The danger was now emerging on her other flank. Serengeti Empress had left the inside path open leaving the far turn, and Santana drove Lady Apple through the seam. Finding top gear, she outfinished the favorite by a half-length while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.19.
Street Band offered a last lunge to grab third, a neck off Serengeti Empress with Mylady Curlin, between foes, the same margin back in fourth. There was an 8 1/2-length gap back to the 43-1 Saracosa, and Out for a Spin retreated to last.
Lady Apple is closing in on millionaire status with $990,150 in earnings from her 12-6-2-1 record. The KatieRich Stables homebred caught the eye when a troubled second in her debut over 4 1/2 furlongs as a juvenile, and Phoenix Thoroughbred III jumped in to acquire a share. Lady Apple just missed in the 2018 Astoria in her first start for the partnership. Shelved after a pair of subpar efforts, she resumed her progress as a 3-year-old in 2019, and 2020 could be her best season yet.
Out of the Grade 2-placed Clever Trick mare Miss Mary Apples, Lady Apple is a half-sister to Grade 2-placed stakes scorer Dr. Diamonds Prize and multiple stakes vixen Miss Red Delicious (herself the dam of Grade 3 winner Nootka Sound). Another half-sibling, My McIntosh, produced multiple Grade 3-placed stakes victor Parlor. Lady Apple’s fourth dam, She Won’t Tell, is a full sister to 1978 Triple Crown legend Affirmed.
While Asmussen repeated in the Houston Ladies Classic, trainer Mike Maker’s streak in the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) was snapped by Dot Matrix from the Brad Cox barn.
Maker had won the past six in a row, most recently with three-peater Bigger Picture, and seven of the last eight. His four-strong entry was whittled down to three, as Cross Border instead ran at Gulfstream Saturday and finished second in the W.L. McKnight (G3). The barn still had the top two in the Connally market at 5-2, slight favorite Marzo and Bemma’s Boy, but a dawdling pace and heady ride by Florent Geroux foiled them.
Dot Matrix, the 3-1 third choice off his third-place effort in the Nov. 23 Red Smith (G3) at Aqueduct, kept close tabs on early leader Sleepy Eyes Todd. Virtually sleepwalking through fractions of :25.63, :52.45, 1:18.21, and 1:43.98 on the good course, Sleepy Eyes Todd was joined by Dot Matrix on the backstretch and gave way before the final turn.
Now the new leader, Dot Matrix shrugged off fellow stalker Another Mystery. Marzo, who had been tucked just off the pace, was also on the march entering the stretch, but Dot Matrix spurted away. Bemma’s Boy then closed stoutly in a last bid to prolong the Maker streak, only to come up three-quarters of a length short. Dot Matrix negotiated 1 1/2 miles in 2:33.46.
Marzo salvaged third by a neck from the unlucky Zumurudee, who lost his good position when having to alter course around the stopping Sleepy Eyes Todd. With an uninterrupted passage, Zumurudee’s late flourish arguably would have put him in the trifecta at 10-1. Next under the wire were Tracksmith, Another Mystery, Prospector Fever, Maker longshot Patriot Drive, Yeowzer, and Sleepy Eyes Todd. Nate’s Attack was scratched along with the aforementioned Cross Border.
Dot Matrix’s first graded victory upped his line to 31-10-4-5, $601,487. The Ten Strike Racing colorbearer previously scored in the 2018 Warrior Veterans at Indiana Grand and last year’s Ashley T. Cole for New York-breds.
Bred by Truxton Stables in the Empire State, the 7-year-old gelding is a Freud half-brother to Pennsylvania-bred stakes winner Aunt Ellipsis. Their dam, the winning Gulch mare Aunt Dot Dot, descends from the same family as Hall of Famers Chris Evert and Winning Colors. This cadet branch of the line is responsible for English and Irish highweight Excellent Art, winner of the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in 2007.