July 14, 2024

Pixelate cuts it close in Woodchopper; Whoa Nellie fuels Jones’ hopes

Pixelate wins the Woodchopper Stakes (Hodges Photography)

Godolphin’s homebred Pixelate was the one to beat in Saturday’s $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds, if the 17-10 favorite could get going in time at a mile. The Mike Stidham trainee did just that, finding top gear late to deny front-running Bodecream by a half-length.

Woodchopper Stakes

Bodecream was attended early by another Stidham runner, Doc Boy, but the pace was slow over a good course. After dictating splits of :24.22, :49.25, and 1:13.92, Bodecream put Doc Boy away in the stretch and appeared to have more in reserve.

Meanwhile, Pixelate, who had been biding his time about midpack, began to unwind for Angel Suarez. Wider out, the challenge of deep closer Dynadrive might have helped galvanize Pixelate a bit more. Responding to that rival as well as bearing down in pursuit of Bodecream, the favorite asserted his class in 1:37.47.

Spanish Kingdom met with some trouble but still grabbed fourth from Doc Boy. Telephone Talker reported home sixth, trailed by Jack the Umpire, Stanford, Victory Boulevard, Oak Hill, Pit Boss, and slow-starting Top Draw. Blackberry Wine was scratched,

Pixelate was reverting to a mile for the first time since placing second to Smooth Like Strait (winner of Saturday’s Mathis Brothers Mile [G2] at Santa Anita) in the May 23 War Chant at Churchill Downs. Mostly competing at 1 1/8 miles thereafter, the City Zip colt was a half-length second to Gufo in a course-record Kent (G3) and scored his marquee victory in the Sept. 6 Del Mar Derby (G2). Pixelate found 1 1/4 miles a bit far when fifth in the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), and finished a much closer fourth in the Nov. 6 Bryan Station at Keeneland.

“I was really confident on this horse,” Suarez told Fair Grounds publicity. “I had been working him in the morning, even before the race he won at (Del Mar). I was working him at Fair Hill (this summer) and he was doing amazing and I told Mike the other day, ‘This horse is doing even better than when he won at (Del Mar),’ so I was really confident in him.”

“Angel and I went over what was going to happen today,” Stidham revealed, “and I said ‘Look, this horse doesn’t win by lengths. He wins by a head or a neck and you’ve got to time this right. It’s all about the ride and the trip you give him, and if you give him the right trip he will win,’ and you saw what happened. He’s an ultra-consistent horse and he’s always been right there, whether it’s a Grade 1 or a listed race like today.”

Pixelate advanced his record to 14-4-5-3, $373,900. In his career debut sprinting on Arlington’s Polytrack, he was a distant second to fellow Godolphin homebred Fair Maiden, heroine of Saturday’s La Brea (G1) at Santa Anita. Pixelate later broke his maiden on the Arlington turf, just missed in the one-mile Awad at Belmont Park, but prevailed in the 1 1/16-mile Central Park at Aqueduct. His other stakes placings earlier this campaign came in the Texas Turf Mile, Black Gold on this course, and the Audubon at Churchill Downs.

Pago Hop Stakes

The $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes served up a similarly climactic finish, only this time it came at the favorite’s expense. The 6-1 Pass the Plate went last-to-first to thwart even-money Evil Lyn, who like Woodchopper runner-up Bodecream is trained by Mike Maker. Just when front-running Evil Lyn fought off her persistent foe In Good Spirits, she was nailed by Pass the Plate on the line. Under an impeccable Brian Hernandez ride, the Paul McGee filly posted the mile in 1:37.36.

Silverton Hill’s homebred Pass the Plate was earning her first black-type win after placing in stakes on all surfaces – the Shantel Lanerie Memorial on this course, the Mar. 14 Bourbonette Oaks on Turfway’s synthetic, the May 23 Tepin on the Churchill turf (to Sharing), and most recently the Nov. 14 Mrs. Revere (G2) that was transferred to the Churchill main.

A well-named daughter of Temple City and Pocket Gift, a multiple stakes-placed Great Notion mare, Pass the Plate has compiled a mark of 12-4-2-3, $290,560.

Broussard Memorial Stakes

Fox Hill Farms’ Whoa Nellie rolled as the 4-5 favorite in the day’s lone dirt stakes, the $75,000 Joseph E. “Spanky” Broussard Memorial, fueling trainer Larry Jones’ prognostications of a banner 2021 for the soon-to-be 5-year-old.

When committed pacesetter Beautiful Trauma went forward from post 3, jockey Florent Geroux took hold of the rail-drawn Whoa Nellie and tactically steered her into the outside stalking role. The daughter of Orb accosted Beautiful Trauma on the far turn, and although the longtime leader tried to fight back, she could not contain the winner. Whoa Nellie looked ever stronger as they raced down the stretch, pulling 3 3/4 lengths clear in 1:43.68 for a mile and 70 yards. Lady Apple churned on, third throughout in the five-horse field reduced by the scratch of Joy Epifora.

“My gameplan was to sit outside Beautiful Trauma early,” Geroux said. “I know she can get very brave when she’s by herself on the lead, so, the idea was to get the jump and first run. My filly might have made the lead too soon but I wanted to get rid of Beautiful Trauma at the beginning of the stretch, since I know she can get brave.”

Whoa Nellie has amassed $353,830 in earnings from her 12-6-2-3 record, including a victory in the Jan. 25 Pippin and a neck loss in the Feb. 17 Bayakoa (G3) in her first stakes appearances at Oaklawn Park. The bay resurfaced with a third to Finite in the Nov. 21 Chilukki (G3) around Churchill’s one-turn mile, and relished the chance to stretch out to two turns again here.

“We’re looking forward to a big year as the Orbs have been showing with age they tend to do better,” Jones said. “She’s a typical Malibu Moon (paternal grandsire) – they run well later. She had been off a long time for the other race (Chilukki) and two turns sometimes is easier on a horse than one-turn, since you’re running that first quarter mile full-tilt. I think she’s back to her old self.”

Bred by Doug Branham and Felicia Branham in Kentucky, Whoa Nellie fetched $220,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She was produced by the Medaglia d’Oro mare Allegheny Angel, and her second dam, Grade 1 vixen Awesome Humor, is closely related to Baffled, the dam of multiple Grade 1 star and successful young sire Constitution.