April 12, 2021

Hard Not to Love, Cookie Dough kick off 2020 in fine form

Hard Not to Love winning the Santa Monica at Santa Anita (Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com)

A pair of 4-year-old fillies kicked off their 2020 campaigns on winning notes when scoring graded stakes victories at opposite ends of the country on Saturday afternoon.

Cookie Dough was the first to strike, battling to a tenacious triumph in the $150,000 Royal Delta (G3) at Gulfstream Park. Placed five times against graded stakes company when trained by Stanley Gold, Cookie Dough’s 2020 debut yielded the breakthrough victory her connections have been waiting for.

Making her first start for new trainer Saffie Joseph, Cookie Dough was always prominent under jockey Paco Lopez, pressing fractions of :23.36 and :46.68 before taking over through six furlongs in 1:11.14. Challenged by Golden Award and Queen Nekia in the homestretch, Cookie Dough could have folded under the pressure and relented to another runner-up effort. Instead, she refused to yield while racing wide, holding Golden Award safe by three-quarters of a length while stopping the timer in 1:43.57.

“I’m very proud of her,” Joseph said of the Arindel homebred. “She came from Stan Gold. Her form spoke for itself. We just hoped we could get her to run as good as Stan because Stan did a great job.”

Queen Nekia missed the runner-up spot by just a nose, while Tweeting, Coach Rocks, and Restless Rider completed the order of finish behind Cookie Dough, who now boasts a 13-3-3-4 record and earnings of $621,220.

Later in the afternoon, Hard Not to Love delivered a popular victory as the 3-5 favorite in the $200,000 Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita. In what was essentially a repeat of her victory in the Dec. 28 La Brea (G1), Hard Not to Love broke slowly under Mike Smith and settled into last place before sweeping past her rivals with a strong stretch rally.

Although Hard Not to Love lost her right eye before her career ever began, the patient care of trainer John Shirreffs has allowed the daughter of Hard Spun to deliver on her vast potential as a racehorse. Certainly she left no doubt about her superiority in the Santa Monica, seizing command early in the stretch and widening from there to cross the finish line 3 1/2 lengths in front.

Mother Mother, Zusha, Lady Ninja, and Road Rager rounded out the order of finish as Hard Not to Love blazed to the finish line in a snappy 1:22.19 for 7 furlongs.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of pace other than the filly in the one hole (Road Rager), she and the one next to me (Mother Mother) had some speed,” Smith told Santa Anita. “I could have been up there as well but she has been running so well just settling off of it. It was nice to see her show her eagerness to be in the race early. It certainly made my job a whole lot easier.”

Owned by the partnership of Mercedes Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Dorothy Ingordo, David Ingordo, and Steve Mooney, Hard Not to Love has won five of her six starts, good for earnings of $408,480.

“I gotta take my hat off to John Shirreffs and everybody, the groom and the gallop girl that gets on her,” Smith continued. “She is a lot of work and they have done a lot to get her here and it is paying off… She just gets anxiety because she can’t see everything, but she is such a sweetheart.”

Shirreffs indicated the Mar. 14 Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita could be the next target for Hard Not to Love.