SARATOGA SPRINGS — Halfway around the second turn, Royal Flag was in last place. Still in last place, where’d she been for the whole race.
She had them right where she wanted them.
Joel Rosario got her rolling down the middle of the track as the six-horse field for the Grade III Shuvee straightened for home at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday, and Royal Flag blew past Horologist two strides from the wire to win by three-quarters of a length.
With the win, the 5-year-old Royal Flag improved to 5-3-2, never having finished off the board in her career, although she hasn’t raced a lot, either. But when she does, she shows up with a chance every time.
“Shadow of the wire,” trainer Chad Brown said with a laugh, when asked when he thought Royal Flag had it won.
“It didn’t look too good at the sixteenth pole. Fortunately, Joel never gave up on this horse, and she showed her heart and consistency. Every time, she’s run at the wire, and as a trainer, you want all your horses to run that way.”
Royal Flag made a late charge from the back of the field in the Shuvee last year, only to run into a better horse, Letruska, who has emerged as the clear leader of the filly and mare dirt route division this year.
Antoinette, a front-end speed horse, scratched out of the Shuvee, but the remaining horses still managed to throw down an honest pace.
Horologist got through the first quarter-mile in 23.35 seconds and the half in 47.01, very similar to the early fractions that contributed to Malathaat’s loss in the Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday.
Still, Royal Flag was six lengths out of it through the half-mile and still had a lot of work do to by the time the field reached the second turn.
“No. I was a little surprised,” Brown said about how far back Royal Flag was early. “But Joel knows her really well now. Her last race at Keeneland — albeit it was a few months ago now — was a really good race for her.
“And I wasn’t sure what the pace was going to do, so I just told him to put her where she’s comfortable. I saw her back there and thought, ‘Well, if that’s where she wants to be . . .’ But the pace was solid enough, and he timed it just right, it was a beautiful ride.”
“The pace was good, and the way she was going, hopefully you have something in the end,” Rosario said.
Brown had two other horses in the field, 2019 Alabama winner Dunbar Road, and Gold Spirit, who was making her first start in the U.S. after 13 starts in Chile, where she was bred.
Dunbar Road, who was coming off a layoff due to a throat infection and hadn’t raced since a fifth to Shedaresthedevil in the Grade I La Troienne in April, got in position to win coming off the grandstand turn, but faded to fifth. Gold Spirit held well for fourth after mixing it up with a group of horses down the backstretch.
“That was disappointing on the final turn, when she [Dunbar Road] made that move and loomed up there,” Brown said. “If I had to stop the race there, she looked like the probable winner, then disappointingly flattened out. So it’s concerning. We’ll have to examine her back at the barn and see how she is.”
Royal Flag, meanwhile, likely will point toward the Personal Ensign on Travers Day Aug. 28, especially based on how she handled the main track at Saratoga, Brown said.
“She was quite far back when they turned for home,” he said. “She’s got a lot of heart. You look at her record, 10 starts, every time in the money. She might not have run a lot of times in her career, but every time she shows up.
“This is her last season racing, so I’m hoping she can have a little more consistent campaign, get a few starts out of her before she retires.”
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