A bobbled start turned out to be just what Assateague, a 23-1 shot, needed to win her first stakes race.
The 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly bobbled at the start, but jockey Luis Saez had her quickly into the race as Baffle Me and Open Water went out to the lead of the $100,000 De La Rose over a mile on the turf for fillies and mares 3 and older.
Assateague trainer Michael Matz said he didn’t want her to be in a speed duel, but close to the pace.
“I think the fact she stumbled a little bit and there was such a fast pace in the beginning probably helped her a little bit,” Matz said. “[Saez] got her to settle in a perfect spot. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
Saez kept Assateague 11⁄2 to two lengths off the pace being set by Baffle Me, who kept a head in front of Open Water through the first three-quarters of a mile, posting fractions of 23.32, 46.10 and 1:09.94. Both backed up in the far turn and the stretch, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively.
“I was third, and I had time,” said Saez, who won three races on the card. “When they came in for the turn, I thought she was beaten, but she won the race from there. It feels so good, it is unbelievable. You know she gave me everything, hands down. She ran big.”
Assateague inherited the lead around the three-sixteenths pole and finished a half-length in front of a closing Ruthenia and Jose Lezcano. Favored Laugh Out Loud was another 1 1⁄4 lengths back in third. Assateague returned $48.60, $17.00 and $6.80.
“She’s won two in a row now. We had such an unlucky season as a 2-year-old and 3-year-old,” Matz said. “Now, hopefully, we’re getting things in order [so] that we can go on with her now.
“My sister-in-law said, ‘We need black type! We need black type!’ So, thank goodness, I’m off that hook.”
It was the second ride aboard Assateague for Saez, who won an allowance optional claiming race with her on June 26 at Belmont. That race saw her win on the lead, holding off Scenario Analysis by three-quarters of a length.
QUENNEVILLE IN TOWN
Two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks made his annual visit to Saratoga, along with his friend, Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen, but did not bring the Cup to the Spa.
That honor was reserved for Arlington Park, naturally, on July 6, when Quenneville took the Cup to Wrigley Field, threw out the first pitch, then took it to the track.
“The crowd went nuts,” Quenneville said while watching the races in the Saratoga clubhouse. “It was crazy. It was a great day. It was a nice double-header.”
The Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins in six games.
Quenneville owns a share in an unraced California-based 2-year-old named Midnight Hawk by majority owner Mike Pegram.
He and Dineen, whose family still lives in Glens Falls, were teammates on the Hartford Whalers and used to come to Saratoga during the offseason. Dineen’s father, Bill, coached the Adirondack Red Wings to a Calder Cup championship in 1989, a team that included Kevin’s brother, Peter.
Kevin Brockley of Gansevoort was given the chance to place a $15,000 win bet on one horse in the Grade I $750,000 Whitney in a contest sponsored by Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson. He chose last year’s Whitney winner, Fort Larned, who went off as the 6-5 favorite and finished fifth, a nose behind fourth-place Ron the Greek. Had Fort Larned won, the bet would have returned $35,250.
Cross Traffic, who returned $9.10 on a $2 win bet, would have returned $68,250.