May 18, 2024

Be Your Best inspires Breeders’ Cup hopes in P.G. Johnson

Be Your Best wins the P. G. Johnson Stakes (Photo by Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

Michael Ryan’s homebred Be Your Best had shown a terrific turn of foot taking the overland route in her career debut at Saratoga. In Thursday’s $150,000 P.G. Johnson S. back at the Spa, the 1.35-1 favorite showed that she could also thread the needle expertly in another impressive performance. Trainer Horacio de Paz is now entertaining thoughts of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Be Your Best broke from post 6, but jockey Jose Ortiz was able to slot her over in a ground-saving third entering the backstretch. Up front, Recognize dictated fractions of :24.15, :49.67, and 1:15.17 on the good inner turf. The stalking Damaso took closer order, and Idea Generation, the 2.30-1 second choice, also crept forward to keep the favorite pocketed.

But Be Your Best didn’t need to get outside. Bravely sticking to the rail, the Irish-bred had enough room to quicken past Recognize and kick 3 3/4 lengths clear. Be Your Best negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.67 to improve her scorecard to 2-for-2 with $140,250 in earnings.

“I knew we were going slow going into the first turn, but I feel like the grass – the inner especially – is no good for speed,” Ortiz observed. “So, I decided to make a move and take that position inside. The filly was so easy to ride. She did whatever I asked her to do. She relaxed well and had a beautiful turn of foot turning for home. The rail opened up and she gave it to me.

“I feel like she didn’t give me 100 percent – she was playing with her ears passing the wire,” her rider added. “She’s happy, and Horacio has done an amazing job with her.”

“Jose had me a little worried at the quarter-pole,” de Paz admitted. “He was kind of inside, but he believed in the filly. He’s been working her in the mornings and rode her first time, so he knew what he had underneath him. Her mind is so good, I worked her with another two-year-old and she was always handling everything very well. Everything she does is very class. She’s a classy filly.”

Whichwaze finished fast from far back for second, a half-length up on third-placer Recognize who nipped a one-paced Idea Generation in fourth. Pachuca checked in fifth, followed by Damaso, Lady Jasmine, and the tailed-off Indian Spideroo. The main-track-only Leave No Trace is set for Sunday’s Spinaway (G1).

Lady Jasmine was never involved after a meltdown in the starting gate. As she was upset in post 1, she briefly affected Whichwaze in post 2. The eventual runner-up had to be backed out and reloaded, but overcame the kerfuffle.

“The one horse was acting up real bad in the gate,” Whichwaze’s rider, Dylan Davis, recapped. “Johnny (Velazquez on Lady Jasmine) ended up diving into my stall and pushing me off my filly, and I was fighting for myself really. I saw they had Johnny and then I was worried about myself. But she ended up getting out of there OK, and she ran a great race. I’m just happy that myself and Johnny are OK.

“She didn’t break the best and ended up being last, but she made a huge run for us and I really like what she did for me.”

Be Your Best’s professionalism will serve her well if she advances as hoped to Breeders’ Cup “Future Stars Friday” on Nov. 4.

“It’s huge because now you can definitely move forward,” de Paz said of making plans, “and she’s got the class to be able to continue on and have a good year. Definitely (think about the Breeders’ Cup), but we’ll see how she comes out. I think she’s deserving of that spot. We’ll look at (another start). She’s a pretty fit filly but (we’ll) kind of get with Mike Ryan on that and make the best decision.”

Bred in the name of Ryan’s St. Croix Bloodstock, Be Your Best has a versatile pedigree. She is by Muhaarar and out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Kamakura, who is a full sister to Grade 3-placed stakes winner Bay of Plenty and a half to Grade 1-placed Fortify. As a descendant of multiple highweight Flagbird, she hails from the family of Grade 1 winners Little Belle and Dickinson as well as Canadian champion Munnyfor Ro.

Ortiz sensed Be Your Best’s talent early on, even in her dirt works on the Belmont Park training track.

“I’ve been getting on her a long time, so I’m excited about her,” her rider said. “We kind of developed her little by little and she always showed that she had a lot of ability, but you never know.

“She always seemed very classy. I got on her very early at Belmont, I would say maybe two months before Saratoga and she was great. I took her to the gate and she was very classy.

“She worked very good on the dirt, so I thought she was an American horse. Horacio told me the second time I worked her, ‘You know she’s a European and is supposed to be better on the grass.’ So I told Horacio, ‘If she improves, on the grass, she’ll be special.’”