Sistercharlie, the heavy favorite, settled for third.
- By Bob Ehalt
There’s a reason why no one has ever won the $2 million Maker’s Mark Filly and Turf (G1T) in back-to-back years.
Ditto for why no one, except Zenyatta, has been able to win seven straight grade 1 stakes since 1973.
With all of that in mind, Nov. 2 at the 36th annual Breeders’ Cup, Peter Brant’s sensational 5-year-old mare Sistercharlie served up a powerful lesson in how elusive victory can be at the highest levels.
Sent off as a 4-5 favorite against nine international rivals, Sistercharlie’s bid for a second Filly and Mare Turf win in a row and seventh straight grade 1 victory came to an abrupt end as she fell victim to a hard, speed-favoring course at Santa Anita Park while finishing third behind trainer Joseph O’Brien’s European traveler Iridessa.
“She’s very special,” Brant said afterwards. “She tried really hard but they didn’t come back. A good horse won. She was a little too far back. They went 1:09 and change so you thought they’d come back, but they didn’t.”
Since Brant intends to breed Sistercharlie, he left the door open to racing her next year at 6, if she comes out of Saturday’s race fine.
“I think we’ll try to keep her in training,” Brant said, “but we’ll see.”
Brown said if Sistercharlie continues racing, she would most likely get a few months off, ruling out running in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1T) on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park.
“Our plan is too see how she exits the race and give her a couple of months. Peter is going to breed her anyway so we have the luxury of waiting and observing her,” Brown said. “If she stayed in training, I couldn’t imagine running her in the Pegasus. It’s something that never came up.”
The daughter of Myboycharlie, who won last year’s Filly and Mare and was named the champion turf female of 2018, had not lost since finishing second in the New York Stakes (G2T) on June 8, 2018. After watching her futilely try to close from fifth under jockey John Velazquez, Brown was appreciate of the degree of difficulty woven into her six-race win streak and bid for a Breeders’ Cup double.
“It’s tough, You are moving venues, I think that’s a factor in that statistic,” Brown said about the lack of back-to-back winners of the race. “It was her first time here and it may not be her course or set up. Johnny said it may have been too firm for her. It wasn’t a bad trip. I loved her spot on the first turn. Even on the backstretch she had a horse get wedged between her and she was spun a little wide, but she ran a great race. The two that ran in front of her ran outstanding. I don’t have any major excuses except that it’s a pretty firm course and if you are not in the mix turning for home, it will be hard to win on it.”
Iridessa, a 3-year-old daughter of Ruler of the World owned by Mrs. C.C. Regalado-Gonzalez, was third in the early stages then outdueled Santa Anita-loving Vasilika in the stretch to prevail by a neck under the urging of jockey Wayne Lordan.
“It’s very special,” said O’Brien, who joins Freddie Head as the only persons to ride and train a Breeders’ Cup winner. “Obviously I’ve been coming here a number of years, and I know how hard it is to compete here. I supposed I’ve been in a previous position to have been supported by some fantastic owners since I started training. And obviously with that I’ve had some very good horses. And it’s very special. It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’ve had a winner here.”
As happy as O’Brien was, his world famous dad, trainer Aidan O’Brien, was equally proud.
“I’m over the moon. I can’t believe it really,” said the elder O’Brien, who sent out Just Wonderful to finish fifth. “We all know how tough it is to get a horse to a race like this and then win it. He has always worked very hard. This is all he does.”
Though Sistercharlie’s customary pacesetter, Thais was not allowed to run by state vets, Little Red Feather Racing’s Mirth filled that role rather well. She led by nine lengths after six furlongs in 1:09.68, but leaving the quarter pole she began to weaken and Vasilika, who was second throughout, and then Iridessa went by and dueled to the wire.
Iridessa ($28.40) covered the 1 ¼ miles in 1:57.77 and raised her record to five wins in 12 starts, adding a Breeders’ Cup win to a pair of group one wins in Ireland earlier this year and a group one score at two in Great Britain.
For Vasilika, owned by All Schlaich Stables, Janet Hollendorfer, Gatto Racing and George Todaro, it was only her second loss in 13 starts on turf at Santa Anita.
She finished 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Sistercharlie, who was three-quarters of a length ahead of Godolphin’s Fanny Logan.
A former claimer, Vasilika had been trained previously by Jerry Hollendorfer who has been ruled off the grounds at Santa Anita. She was turned over to Dan Ward, who had been Hollendorfer’s assistant.
“What a fantastic race. He (Flavien Prat) rode her perfect. He had her relaxed the whole way,” Ward said. “They weren’t gaining ground on the turf so he felt like he had to be out closer (than where she usually is farther off the pace) and just put her where she was comfortable and she did not give up. She’s done everything we’ve asked from her since the day we got her (as a claim). She’s a super horse.”