In the stretch run of Friday’s $175,000 Lake George (G3), trainer Chad Brown knew that he was poised to win the Saratoga feature for the fourth year in a row, and the sixth time in the last eight years. Less clear was which of his runners would do the honors – Dolce Zel, who was threading the needle on the rail, or favorite Eminent Victor, who had momentum on the outside. The photo-finish revealed that 3.30-1 second choice Dolce Zel just nipped the 1.75-1 Eminent Victor at the wire.
“It was pretty tight. I wasn’t quite sure,” Brown said. “I felt pretty good turning for home. My two horses were probably traveling the best.
“People asked me all day walking around the track, ‘Who do you like? Who do you like in this race between them?’ I think I told them all the truth – it’s close. And it proved to almost be a dead heat. These situations are unfortunate that there has to be a loser because both horses ran so good.
“We almost got that, ‘I’ll get it one day.’ A dead heat here at Saratoga. You get two wins for that,” Brown added, laughing. “Both horses ran terrific.”
Indeed, both fillies overcame various difficulties to produce the thrilling conclusion. Eminent Victor was the first to create drama when stumbling to her knees at the start, then pinballed, bumping Sister Lou Ann on her outside and Dolce Zel to her inside. Both Brown pupils recovered to secure early position, Dolce Zel in a ground-saving third and Eminent Victor fourth.
Meanwhile, Al Qahira was carving out a steady pace of :24.13 and :48.33 on the firm inner turf. Sister Lou Ann settled in second until upping the ante at the three-quarter mark in 1:12.30. By that point, Eminent Victor was improving into third on the far turn.
Dolce Zel was on hold for Irad Ortiz Jr., who was working to find room entering the stretch. He tried to shift out and make a path between the early leaders, but Sister Lou Ann held her ground, and the door was shut. Ortiz then had to exploit the narrow seam on the inside, and Dolce Zel gamely took the gap to overhaul Al Qahira.
At the same time, Eminent Victor was attacking on the outside, and Al Qahira was surrounded as she succumbed to the Brown patrol on maneuvers. Eminent Victor kept coming, only now she found Dolce Zel as her fresh opponent to tackle. The stablemates flashed past the wire together, but Dolce Zel had her nose in front in 1:35.64 for the mile. Her time is the fastest since the Lake George was trimmed to a mile in 2019.
“She’s tiny,” Ortiz said of Dolce Zel, “and that helps a little because there was not too much room, but that was the only choice, so I (went) for it. She got through, and after she got through she put her head down and fought with the other one (Eminent Victor). It worked out good.”
Brown believed that despite Dolce Zel’s checkered passage, Eminent Victor had the costlier trouble.
“Dolce Zel, although she had trouble, had a ground-saving trip and reserved so much energy that when they reached for the wire, she just had a little bit more there,” their trainer said. “Eminent Victor stumbled at the start and had a wide run in the final turn and it might have just took a little bit of the fuel out of her that last 70 yards where she couldn’t really accelerate past everybody. I think that was the difference.”
Eminent Victor’s rider, Flavien Prat, thought that she regrouped well enough.
“I got a good trip,” Prat said. “She bobbled out of the gate, but she recovered well and I was in a good position without rushing her, so it was fine.”
When asked about the start, Prat agreed that it mattered to some degree.
“It always does. You always want to break and get a clean break,” Prat said, “but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”
Finishing another 1 3/4 lengths astern in third was Koala Princess, in a solid effort off the layoff. The Arnaud Delacour filly was last seen reporting home seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
“We got a great trip,” her jockey Trevor McCarthy said, “and were able to save all the ground in the first turn and follow the winner (Dolce Zel) and the six horse (Eminent Victor). Irad was able to get through and I wasn’t, so I had to go around. She might have gotten a little tired coming off the layoff, but it was a great performance and it was nice to see her get a graded stakes placing.”
Al Qahira held fourth, followed by Skims, Sister Lou Ann, Spirit and Glory, and Heavenly Hellos. Republique was a vet scratch.
Campaigned by Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb (who’s also a partner in Eminent Victor), and Robert V. LaPenta, Dolce Zel was scoring her second graded win. The French import captured the March 12 Florida Oaks (G3) in her U.S. debut. She was subsequently second to Spendarella in the Appalachian (G2) and a better-than-appears third in the Edgewood (G2) on Kentucky Oaks Day. Her resume reads 6-3-1-1, $307,177.
Dolce Zel initially raced for breeder Scuderia Micolo SNC. From the first crop of the Sea the Stars stallion Zelzal, the bay broke her maiden at ParisLongchamp second time out as a juvenile. Her dam, the Dr Fong mare Dolce Attesa, is also responsible for Group 2-placed stakes scorer Pure Zen. This is the family of Grade 1 winners Rigoletta (and her son Battle of Midway) and Patternrecognition as well as champion Musical Romance.
The Lake George serves as a stepping stone to the Aug. 20 Lake Placid (G2), and Brown is leaving the option open for a rematch over 1 1/16 miles.
“Dolce Zel has always struck me as best at a mile,” the horseman said. “Of course, she was able to be effective at a mile and a sixteenth. Eminent Victor looks like as she develops, she’ll run a bit further. Both of these horses could end up back in the Lake Placid.”