SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was tough to see.
It was tough to tell.
The weather was gloomy, gray and rainy, and the blanket finish was frantic, ultimately declared a dead heat between Regal Glory and Varenka in the 2019 Lake Placid at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer Chad Brown liked his filly Regal Glory, bred and owned by Paul Pompa, Jr., back then, but admits now he didn’t necessarily see her winning Grade I races, at least not when she first came to his barn as a 2-year-old in 2018.
Much will be made of the fact that Regal Glory will be facing males for the first time in her career as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s Fourstardave at Saratoga, but perhaps more remarkable is not only her longevity, but the fact that, at 6, she’s having by far the best season of her career.
So much so that the gender of her competition is much less a factor in picking her races this year than the turf distance and graded status. Those are two boxes the one-mile, Grade I Fourstardave checks for Brown and owner Peter Brant, who bought Regal Glory in a dispersal sale of Pompa’s racing stock after Pompa died in October of 2020.
Brown said Thursday morning that he hadn’t even planned to race Regal Glory beyond the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational in January, but again relied on the vision of her owner, and now here they are, getting ready to run in another Grade I, with an eye on a possible Eclipse Award when 2022 is complete.
“The horse has really reached heights I never thought she would,” Brown said. “I always liked her. We always thought a lot of her, but if you told me, when she was younger, that at 6 years old she was going to be the favorite for the Fourstardave, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Regal Glory didn’t run in the Breeders’ Cup last year, but signaled things to come when she won a Grade I for the first time in late November, the Matriarch at Del Mar.
That served as a bridge to the Pegasus World Cup, then she was set to be retired, the January race punctuating her solid 5-year-old season, not marking the opening note of a full 6-year-old campaign.
But Brant convinced his trainer to get her back into training after she “came out of the race fabulous,” Brown said, and recovered from the Pegasus, just to see what was there.
“It was really his decision to race her at 6,” Brown said. “I would’ve been fine with retiring her. I thought she’d done enough. He’s an excellent horsemen. He always told me, ‘I think she might be just a tick better than you even think, Chad.’ He used to tell me that.
“And he had a lot of race mares going against her, the likes of a horse like Blowout, who was a Grade I winner who ran against her a lot.”
Regal Glory and Blowout were butting heads occasionally back when Pompa owned Regal Glory. In fact, the Brant-owned Blowout finished third in that 2019 Lake Placid, just a neck behind the Regal Glory-Varenka dead heat.
After Pompa died and his horses went into an estate sale, Brant paid $925,000 for Regal Glory.
“Mr. Brant is very astute,” Brown said. “He gets to know my horses very well because he’s here a lot in the mornings watching them breeze together and watching them run together, and particularly in this turf mare division over the years.
“He gets to know all my horses, regardless of if he owns them or not, as good as I know them. And he was really zeroed in on this horse for a long time. He’s paying a lot of attention to what’s going on in my barn, no matter whose horses they are. He’s not wrong much.”
Still, it took some time before Regal Glory put it all together.
She started 2021 by winning an ungraded stakes at Aqueduct, was fourth in the Grade I Just a Game at Belmont and won the De La Rose at Saratoga before running into her old buddy Blowout, now her stablemate, in the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland.
Blowout won by a half-length, but Brown and Brant kept her on the Grade I path and were finally rewarded when she won the Matriarch.
“She looked like a really good prospect [at 2],” Brown said. “As she got into her 3-year-old year it was clear that she was going to win multiple graded stakes and be a fine horse. It wasn’t even evident then that she was going to win Grade I’s, to be totally honest.
“And then, as her career’s evolved — and, of course, the unfortunate, sudden, unexpected passing of Mr. Pompa, who bred her and loved her so much and believed in her more than anybody — I was fortunate that Mr. Peter Brant stepped in and bought her out of the dispersal, out of the estate sale, and kept her in training.”
After winning the Grade III Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational by 2 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park, Regal Glory won the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland and the Grade I Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day to stamp herself as the best in Brown’s loaded collection of turf females.
Among the horses she beat in the Just a Game was stablemate In Italian, who went on to win the Grade I Diana on opening weekend of the Saratoga meet.
Brown said the Fourstardave became a prime target as soon as they decided post-Pegasus to run her throughout her 6-year-old season.
“I figured if I was going to run her at this age and really aim high for an Eclipse Award type of campaign, she’s going to have to meet some big challenges,” Brown said. “If she’s good enough, and we get to the summer, that’s the distance and race.”
Besides being good enough, Regal Glory, a chestnut daughter of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, has been healthy enough.
Brown said Regal Glory, who is 12-4-0 from 19 career starts for over $2 million in purse earnings, has only had minor physical issues since she was 2.
“She’s a real durable, well-raised, well-managed, talented horse,” he said. “We’ve created over the years a situation to have rest when she needs it and try to take care of her between races in her works and such. In the end, she does all the heavy lifting, because she’s just a good horse.”
Regal Glory can also “run on anything,” Brown said, and isn’t picky about whether a turf course has taken rain or not.
After the Fourstardave, she might run in the First Lady again, but the BC Mile, when she would face males again, is the ultimate goal.
Brown has some experience winning that race with a female, after Uni did so in 2019. Uni was third in the Fourstardave that year and seventh and fifth, respectively, in the Fourstardave and BC Mile in 2020.
“Sometimes these horses can just keep improving, getting better and faster through the years, and throw in there that it’s a mare that’s 6, which some of these race mares you don’t see racing at 6 too much, they can have their mind on being a mama by that point,” Brown said.
“I’m just so impressed with the horse and would like to say I have so much respect for her. To keep going and keep improving at this stage of her career, it’s like one of my kids. You’re just so proud of them that they reached heights you didn’t know yourself they could get to.”
Besides the Fourstardave, Saturday’s card includes the Grade II Saratoga Special, the second leg in Saratoga’s three grade dirt stakes for 2-year-old males.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Gulfport is the 4-5 favorite off impressive wins in a maiden race and the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs.
The five-horse field also includes 7-5 Damon’s Mound, who won by 12 1-2 lengths at Churchill on July 2 for trainer Michelle Lovell, a former jockey who will be saddling a horse at Saratoga for the first time.
She finished second as a rider three times in 1993.
“It’s really special,” Lovell told the New York Racing Association. “I’ve been there a few times and rode a handful of races there many moons ago, so I had the experience of being on the track and being in awe of the beautiful place that it is. But this is a whole new look, and I’m really looking forward to it.”