July 22, 2024

Fluffy Socks topples Spendarella in Churchill Distaff Turf Mile

Fluffy Socks wins the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs (Photo by Coady Photography)

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was having a tough Kentucky Derby Day. First came the scratch of morning-line favorite Forte (although Ortiz picked up another Derby mount in Cyclone Mischief). Then came his traffic-stymied loss aboard odds-on Goodnight Olive in the Derby City Distaff (G1). But Ortiz turned things around in the $500,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), steering the 4.98-1 Fluffy Socks to upset heavily-favored Spendarella.

Ortiz was simultaneously making amends to trainer Chad Brown, who also had luckless favorite Goodnight Olive, and exacting revenge on the rider who contributed to their woes in the Derby City Distaff. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione had kept Ortiz bottled up on the rail in the prior race. By holding his position aboard Derby City runner-up Wicked Halo, Gaffalione didn’t give Ortiz any room to slip the pocket, and Goodnight Olive wound up third.

In the Distaff Turf Mile, Gaffalione was riding 0.81-1 favorite Spendarella, and Ortiz beat him by bursting through on her inside flank. The vengeance was palpable as Ortiz turned around in the saddle to make his point to Gaffalione. Fluffy Socks might have felt the same, as she was ending a seven-race losing skid.

Fluffy Socks and Spendarella were both making their seasonal reappearances in this spot, but the favorite was tackling older rivals for the first time. Spendarella expended more energy early than the patiently-ridden Fluffy Socks, and that might have been decisive.

Brown had a trio in the Distaff Turf Mile. Haughty was his runner likeliest to go forward as her other stablemate, defending champion Speak of the Devil, figured to rate along with Fluffy Socks.

In the initial scramble, Haughty wanted to show speed, and Spendarella went with her before conceding. As Haughty led through splits of :23.62, :47.84, and 1:11.68 on the firm Churchill Downs course, Spendarella appeared a bit too on the muscle tracking. The favorite accosted a weakening Haughty swinging into the stretch, but the rest of the Brown brigade was on the march too.

Fluffy Socks, who had been on hold in fifth, crept closer on the far turn until she was just off the leaders’ heels. Speak of the Devil took the overland route into contention and briefly tried to challenge Spendarella.

But Fluffy Socks had the best kick of all. Taking advantage of a wide seam between Spendarella and Haughty, Fluffy Socks drove through to score by a length in 1:35.53.

Spendarella was the same margin ahead of Speak of the Devil. Fourth-placer Wakanaka, a long way last early, rolled late and just missed third by a nose. Longshot Sharp Hero dropped back to fifth, and Haughty trailed. Freedom Speaks and Sister Lou Ann were scratched.

Fluffy Socks was handing Brown a record-tying fourth win in the Distaff Turf Mile, joining Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Brown’s first victory came courtesy of Roca Rojo (2017), and he’s won the past three with Blowout (2020) preceding Speak of the Devil.

A homebred for Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners, Fluffy Socks improved her scorecard to 18-5-7-2, $994,580. The five-year-old mare was earning her fourth stakes laurel, having taken the 2020 Jimmy Durante (G3) and Selima S. as a juvenile and the 2021 Sands Point (G2). Although winless in 2022, Fluffy Socks remained a consistent superfecta performer. Her resume features eight stakes placings, including runner-up efforts in last year’s Ballston Spa (G2), Modesty (G3), and Matchmaker (G3) as well as the 2021 Lake George (G3) at three. Fluffy Socks other graded credits were thirds in the Del Mar Oaks (G1) and American Oaks (G2).

Fluffy Socks is the offspring of Brown trainees who raced for partnerships including Kumin. Sire Slumber, originally from the Juddmonte fold, scored his signature win in the 2015 Manhattan (G1). Her dam, the Kitten’s Joy mare Breakfast Time, retired as a thrice-raced maiden. But she’s produced two winners so far. Her current three-year-old filly, Up and Down, broke her maiden at Keeneland April 19 for the Fluffy Socks connections.