July 23, 2024

McKulick thwarts War Like Goddess in Glens Falls

McKulick (left) nabbed two-time defending champ War Like Goddess in the Glens Falls (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

Once War Like Goddess took command in the stretch of Thursday’s $250,000 Glens Falls (G2), the 1-2 favorite appeared to be on her way to a three-peat in the Saratoga feature. But the two-time defending champion could not stave off the powerful late rush of McKulick, who thrust her neck in front in the final strides. The Frankel filly was giving trainer Chad Brown his first victory in the Glens Falls, a rare lacuna in his resume in the turf distaff division.

Both principals stood to move forward from losses in the June 9 New York (G1), where McKulick rallied for third, and War Like Goddess was a close sixth, in a paceless 1 1/4-mile race. War Like Goddess was sure to prefer stepping back up to her 1 1/2-mile wheelhouse in the Glens Falls. McKulick was attempting this distance for the first time, but as the winner of last year’s Belmont Oaks (G1) and Jockey Club Oaks (G3), she had the right profile for it.

“At the shorter distances, the horses kick away from her,” regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. said of McKulick, “and it’s hard for her to catch up with them. She doesn’t have that turn of foot, but she always comes running late. For these kind of longer races, her style is great. It fit her perfect.”

While McKulick proved her stamina here, War Like Goddess sabotaged her own by pulling fiercely in the early going. Jockey Joel Rosario was in a wrestling match with the favorite, who tossed her head and kept frittering away energy for much of the opening half-mile. Rosario cajoled her into settling better as they negotiated the backstretch for the second time, but War Like Goddess was still taking a stout hold as she stalked in third. McKulick, in contrast, was traveling kindly in her wake.

Up front, the 45-1 longshot Elegant Taste carved out splits of :24.84, :50.01, and 1:15.29 on the firm inner turf, then gave way and ended up being eased. The tracking Vergara inherited the lead at the mile mark in 1:39.53 and tried to give them the slip into the lane, only to find War Like Goddess rumbling past.

McKulick still had a couple of lengths to make up in midstretch. Once emerging from the pack into daylight, the Klaravich Stables colorbearer rapidly gained ground. McKulick kept switching leads, hopping from left to right, but that didn’t interrupt her momentum as she nabbed the favorite in 2:27.05. The 4.20-1 second choice returned $10.40.

“Irad rode a masterful race,” Brown noted. “Early on when War Like Goddess had position ahead of us and was a little rank and such, he carefully stayed behind her. When she came off the rail down the backside before the final turn, Irad cleverly got off the rail as well and followed her and stayed away from the horse (Elegant Taste) that was stopping on the rail. All those moves, particularly that one down the backside, really made the difference today.”

War Like Goddess might have established greater separation late if she’d relaxed early, but she still had 2 1/4 lengths to spare over third.

“She didn’t run terrible,” trainer Bill Mott said. “It wasn’t ideal. Maybe she needs to be covered up a little more. She was a little rank going into the first turn. They were going slow and she was pulling a bit today.”

“It was a good trip. I mean, a slow pace and she was up there,” Rosario said. “She did everything I asked her to do, a little unlucky.

“She felt good. She looked like she was pulling for me today like she always does. It was good. I thought for a second that she was going to get the job done, but that horse came strong on the outside, but good effort from her.”

Amazing Grace took the show spot by a head from Sopran Basilea, who was tragically injured and pulled up on the gallop-out. Vergara faded to fifth, followed by Virginia Joy and Elegant Taste.

Sopran Basilea sustained a catastrophic injury to her right front leg, according to NYRA’s senior examining veterinarian. She was humanely euthanized on the course. The winner of the 2021 Premio Lydia Tesio (G2) during her successful career in Italy, the Irish-bred was already making waves in just two stateside starts. Sopran Basilea was a terrific second in the Gallorette (G3) before scoring in the Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) last out. The five-year-old daughter of Night of Thunder leaves a pang about what might have been.

McKulick was earning a poignant win, as the namesake of Brown’s first employee, bookkeeper Mary McKulick, who passed away in October 2020. The British-bred filly was purchased that same month at Tattersalls, for about $245,549, and Klaravich’s Seth Klarman graciously let Brown choose her to bear McKulick’s name.

After the Glens Falls advanced the filly’s record to 11-4-4-2, $1,405,720, it was McKulick’s widower, Ron, who led the filly into the Saratoga winner’s circle.

Brown spoke of what McKulick meant to his operation:

She was my bookkeeper and really the first person I hired when I started the business. It was just me and her on day one. She was a really integral part of the foundation of my company.

I really wouldn’t be standing here today had I not had someone with her expertise in bookkeeping, organization, and management of a training operation. I needed someone with a lot of wisdom.

I may have learned how to train horses from (from late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby) Frankel, but I didn’t know how to run my business that way. Mary really took me in and made sure from day one we were organized. I remember looking back before she passed away, and I couldn’t believe how small we started and how big this thing got. She often said working with me was the best job she had ever had, which was an honor.

The equine Frankel was named in honor of the horseman, so it’s another layer of meaning for him to be the sire of the filly named after McKulick. She’s doing Mary proud as an admirably consistent performer in tough company. In addition to her three graded wins, the bay has placed in the Miss Grillo (G2) at two; the Edgewood (G2), Regret (G3), Saratoga Oaks (G3), and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at three; and the aforementioned New York.

“I thought she ran better than it looked at Belmont, I really do,” Brown said of McKulick’s New York third. “It was a really paceless race. Obviously, I won with my other horse (Marketsegmentation) and they were walking.

“This time, she had more real estate and around three turns. It’s a whole different ball game to make up off a slow pace at Saratoga than Belmont.”

Judging by the Glens Falls, McKulick herself is a whole new player over longer distances. Bred by Essafinaat UK Ltd., she is a half-sister to two Group 2 winners – Fearless King, hero of the German 2000 Guineas (G2) in 2020, and Just Beautiful, who captured the May 28 Lanwades Stud (aka Ridgewood Pearl) (G2) at the Curragh. They were all produced by the Group 3-placed Astrelle, by Makfi.