A pair of favored two-year-old fillies secured their spots in the Breeders’ Cup with front-running victories on Keeneland’s Friday opener. Wonder Wheel just lasted in the $497,337 Alcibiades (G1) to book her ticket to the Juvenile Fillies (G1), and Delight routed the $320,463 Jessamine (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
After losing her perfect record as a wide-trip, chasing second in the Sept. 4 Spinaway (G1), Wonder Wheel enjoyed a tactically advantageous passage in this two-turn bow at Keeneland. Trainer Mark Casse has made no secret of his high regard for the Into Mischief filly, who was scoring her second stakes win.
Regular rider Tyler Gaffalione urged Wonder Wheel to get position from her rail post, and the 4.10-1 favorite responded to win the early pacesetting battle. Capitalizing on her ground-saving trip into the first turn, the D. J. Stable colorbearer outfooted several rivals fanned out across the track in an opening quarter in :23.49.
Wonder Wheel found her comfort zone in fractions of :47.16 and 1:11.60 and pulled away from the field rounding the turn into the stretch. The dark bay lost steam, whether through lack of focus or weariness, and started looking for the first wire. Her final sixteenth elapsed in :6.95.
Meanwhile, Chop Chop was kicking into gear from a long way back, and the tracking duo of Xigera and Raging Sea were also re-emerging into the frame. Raging Sea drifted out under left-handed urging and collided with Xigera, who pinballed into Chop Chop, altered course, and never recovered.
Chop Chop maintained her momentum and nearly caught Wonder Wheel, but the favorite kept her nose in front on the line. Raging Sea reported home another neck away in third, with the unfortunate Xigera another 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth.
The stewards posted the inquiry sign, and Xigera’s connections – trainer Phil Bauer and jockey Joe Talamo – claimed foul against Jose Ortiz aboard Raging Sea. Upon review, the wayward Raging Sea was disqualified and placed fourth. Xigera was promoted to third.
The revised order also had an impact on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) points that the Alcibiades awards to the top five. Wonder Wheel, whose winning status was not imperiled in the inquiry, earned 10 points, and Chop Chop’s near-miss was worth four points. But Xigera was now handed three points as the official third, and Raging Sea got the two points for fourth.
Sabra Tuff came from the clouds to pick up one point in fifth. Next came Mustang Lady; Boss Lady Bailey; a non-threatening Fun and Feisty, the Pocahontas (G3) winner; Stellar Lady; Take Charge Briana; Kaling; Essaouira; and the eased pair of Just Cindy and Infinite Diamond.
By negotiating 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.17, Wonder Wheel enhanced her record to 4-3-1-0, $510,725. She captured her first two starts at Churchill Downs, a June 3 maiden and the July 4 Debutante S.
Wonder Wheel was bred by Three Chimneys Farm and Clearsky Farms in Kentucky. The $275,000 Keeneland September yearling is out of multiple stakes victress Wonder Gal, who placed four times at the Grade 1 level including in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies. Wonder Gal is a half-sister (by Tiz Wonderful) to multiple Grade 3 scorer Social Queen, the dam of Grade 1 winner Force the Pass.
“We always thought (Wonder Wheel) had a lot of class, and she really showed it today,” Gaffalione said of the Alcibiades. “She put in a really big performance. Visually, (the win) doesn’t look as easy as it should, but she kind of just got lost coming into the stretch and there were a lot of people in the stands today, so she had every excuse.”
Casse is forecasting improvement from this experience over the Juvenile Fillies track and trip.
“She had a great trip today; she had a little bit of a troubled trip (in the Spinaway),” the Hall of Famer said. “And in all honesty, the Spinaway is a big race – it’s a Grade 1, but it wasn’t my main goal. Today was it, and hopefully this will lead us into another big race coming up. She ran well, had a great trip. Some others maybe struggled and didn’t, but I do think she probably lost focus a little. She would surprise me if she couldn’t get a really good mile and a sixteenth. So maybe this race moves her up.”
Brad Cox, Chop Chop’s trainer, likewise believes that she “got a lot out of this race.” Her Breeders’ Cup participation will be finalized after she returns to her Churchill base.
Bauer is looking toward the Breeders’ Cup with Xigera, either the Juvenile Fillies or the companion race on turf.
“Certainly we’ll move forward; we’ve got options of turf and dirt,” Bauer said. “Our first option was the turf, and the filly (Delight) that we beat at Saratoga won the Jessamine.”
Augustin Stable’s Delight became the first stakes winner for blueblood freshman sire Mendelssohn, the Scat Daddy half-brother to Into Mischief (and Hall of Famer Beholder). Scratched from last Saturday’s off-the-turf Selima S. at Laurel, where stablemate Born Dapper splashed to victory, the Jonathan Thomas pupil grabbed the early lead and drew off in a five-length conquest.
Delight had placed third to Wesley Ward’s talented Love Reigns in her career debut here during the Spring Meet. On the stretch-out at Saratoga, she was third again to Pink Hue and Xigera. Delight broke through over a route at Delaware Park in her latest and garnered 3.84-1 favoritism in this first stakes attempt.
Under Luis Saez, Delight used her inside post 3 to take over from Bling through an opening quarter in :24.32 on the firm turf. The chestnut slowed the pace down through splits of :49.61 and 1:14.73, then quickened in the lane to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.14.
Slow-starting Knockyoursocksoff rallied for second, edging Bling by a neck. Sabalenka closed from last for fourth, followed by C C Cruise Control, Dulcia, Happy Gal, Towhead, Blind Spot, Stephanie’s Charm, Recognize, and Promise of Hope. Also-eligibles Tax Implications, Aztec Nights, Play the Music, and Southlawn did not draw into the field.
“The plan was to follow somebody and have a target for the lead,” Saez said, “but she broke so well and did it on her own. She controlled the pace and relaxed beautiful. When she came to the top of the stretch, it was all about her. She (accelerated) pretty fast. She had a big turn of foot and I didn’t really have to do anything – just keep going on with her and she did it.”
“We were hoping to get her covered up,” Thomas said, “but she really relaxed. I love seeing her ears twitching back and forth. You’re always hoping you have horse, and she kicked away. That’s when you see Luis really, really good, when he’s on the lead like that. He’s so well rounded, but that’s when he’s absolutely brilliant.”
Thomas also credited owner George Strawbridge Jr. for “letting us take our time and pick the appropriate spots” to develop the promising filly.
“He’s really put a lot of faith in us. It’s really special.”
Delight sports a mark of 4-2-0-2, $211,905. Bred by Hickstead Farm in Florida, she went to her current connections for $400,000 as an OBS March juvenile. The first foal from the unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare Honey Trap originally RNA’d for $105,000 at Keeneland September and sold for $90,000 as a yearling at OBS.