Never having competed on conventional dirt or run in a stakes race meant little to Sweet Lulu, who belied her inexperience Saturday and turned in an electrifying performance to win the 88th edition of the Grade 1, $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga Race Course.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer shipped the daughter of Mr. Greeley in from Del Mar for the historic Test off just three outings – wins in a maiden, allowance and optional claiming race. She ran like a seasoned veteran, however, pushing long shot Baby J through a blazing opening quarter-mile in 22.28 seconds, a half in 44.95 and then surviving a second duel with stalker Wildcat Lily through the stretch to win by a head.
Sweet Lulu completed the seven-furlong Test in 1:23.45 and paid $5.60 for a $2 win wager as the 9-5 favorite.
In the winner's circle after the race, Hollendorfer was greeted by another Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, who made his way down from his box to offer congratulations.
“You're the best,” said Lukas, who later on the card won the Grade 1 Travers with Will Take Charge. “When you ship in and beat them here, Jerry, you're the best.”
The win was the 6,479th for Hollendorfer, who ranks third on the all-time list. Despite Sweet Lulu's lack of experience, the trainer came east with confidence.
“She trained on dirt as a 2-year-old,” Hollendorfer said. “I had her at Pleasanton with all my 2-year-olds and she liked it there. We weren't that concerned about it. After the [most recent start at Del Mar on July 24], I asked [jockey] Julien [Leparoux], and he said he thought she would handle dirt better than synthetic.
“She's done everything we've asked her to do,” he added. “I didn't know if I should ship her this soon and come back here and try this, but she was doing so well and showing speed, and this is a Grade 1 and a very important race for pedigree, so we decided to try it.”
When the gate opened, Baby J, winner of the Grade 3 Victory Ride in June at Belmont Park, popped to the front from the No. 2 post position and Sweet Lulu hooked up with her on the outside.
Wildcat Lily, second last out in the Grade 1 Prioress, took up a stalking spot, clear in third. The other five fillies were not in close contact.
With a quarter-mile remaining, Baby J folded and Wildcat Lily engaged Sweet Lulu and briefly got her head in front. Yet the winner battled back and won by a head.
My Happy Face, cutting back in distance off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, rallied for third, followed by So Many Ways, Lighthouse Bay, Irish Lute, I'm Mom's Favorite and Baby J.
“We got a perfect trip,” said winning rider Julien Leparoux. “Johnny [Velazquez on Wildcat Lily] came to me, and it looked like he came maybe even in front of me, and she fought back and came back to win.”
The winning purse of $300,000 pushed Sweet Lulu's lifetime earnings to $411,600.
Hollendorfer said perhaps the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint would be in Sweet Lulu's sights.
“I think we would look at something like that,” he said. “I didn't make any other long-term plans. This was my point race; my owner agreed to it, and here we are.”
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Test (G1) Quotes
Jerry Hollendorfer, winning trainer of Sweet Lulu (No. 5): “I was a little concerned when she got headed, and then Julien [Leparoux] rode hard and she came back, fought back and won. She's done everything we've asked her to do. I didn't know if I should ship her this soon and come back here and try this, but she was doing so well and showing speed, and this is a Grade 1 and a very important race for pedigree, so we decided to try it.”
“She trained on dirt as a 2-year-old. I had her at Pleasanton with all my 2-year-olds and she liked it there. We weren't that concerned about it. After the race, I asked Julien, and he said he thought she would handle dirt better than synthetic.”
Breeders' Cup? “I think we would look at something like that. I didn't make any other long-term plans. This was my point race; my owner agreed to it, and here we are.”
Julien Leparoux, winning jockey aboard Sweet Lulu (No. 5): “The speed is pretty good today, so we wanted to have a clear trip on the lead or somewhere close. We got a perfect trip. Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Wildcat Lily] came to me, and it looked like he came maybe even in front of me, and she fought back and came back to win.”
“She's been showing a lot in the mornings and every race. I only rode her the one time, but she showed a lot already. We were confident today, and she proved she was the kind of filly we thought she was.”
John Velazquez, jockey aboard runner-up Wildcat Lily (No. 9): “Tough beat. She ran great. I thought I had them, but the horse on the inside had a little something left and it was probably a little too far for my filly.”
Chad Brown, trainer of third-place finisher My Happy Face (No. 8): “She ran huge. Unfortunately, there were a lot of horses stopping at the quarter-pole. Mike just felt that there were a lot of tired horses ahead of him and they all decided to stack themselves across the track, trying to give themselves the best shot they could. Unfortunately it spun us seven-, eight-, nine-wide. She ran her race; it's just one of those things when you have a big field in horse racing. Sometimes you're not going to get the best trip. Mike did the best he could. I thought she ran her ‘A' race, probably just lost a little too much ground turning for home.”
Mike Smith, jockey aboard third-place finisher My Happy Face (No. 8): “I just got away slow. She kept coming, but just wasn't coming hard enough.”
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