Street Band and jockey Sophie Doyle came into Parx Racing's $1 million Cotillion on Sept. 21 with victories in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and Grade 3 Indiana Oaks. Both filly and rider earned their first Grade 1 victory as Street Band rallied from near-last and looping wide to take the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion over heavy favorite (and previously unbeaten) Guarana.
“It's nice to finally get a Grade 1 and hopefully we'll be looking for a second Grade 1 soon,” said Doyle, whose brother, James, is one of England's top jockeys while riding for the powerful Godolphin stable. “It's just nice to be up there finally, somewhere where I always believed I could be. Of course I always had to keep chasing my brother, and now I've finally matched him with one.”
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Doyle said of the Cotillion. “I was just really glad I did my homework going into the race. We knew there would be a pretty quick pace setup. We didn't expect them to go quite that quick, but it really set me up for how I rode my race. She did everything right, traveled great and proved how good she really was against those tough fillies. She's never really been favored in most of her races, the biggest races. Sometimes it's nice when you're the underdog and surprise everybody. Street Band has always had lots of class and I've always believed in her. I think it's been a great connection about us, that we have so much trust in one another and we know each other so well. In the Cotillion, when I was back there, I wasn't worried. I just let her do her thing, and she took me for a fantastic ride.”
Now they're in pursuit of their second Grade 1 victory by taking on older fillies and mares for the first time in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 2 at California's Santa Anita Park. Street Band earned an entry fees-paid spot in the 1 1/8-mile race, for which Midnight Bisou, unbeaten in seven starts this year, looms as the strong favorite.
Trainer Larry Jones, the Ellis Park regular who also co-bred and co-owns majority interest in Street Band with wife Cindy Jones and Ray Francis of Henderson, Ky., has had 11 different horses win Grade 1 races but is seeking his first victory in a Breeders' Cup event.
Doyle has been in one previous Breeders' Cup, finishing 13th in the 2015 Filly & Mare Sprint aboard Fioretti, who gave the jockey her first graded-stakes victory in Keeneland's Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America after finishing second in Ellis Park's Grade 3 Groupie Doll.
“She's doing everything the right way,” Doyle said after Street Band's easy five-eighths of a mile work timed in 1:03 at Churchill Downs this week. “She's setting up nicely for the next race, and she's really maturing. I'm not worried about the next horses we're going to meet like Midnight Bisou. Because like I said going into the Cotillion, everyone is beatable. I think you've just got to be smart enough and know your races well enough to know tactics-wise how can you beat them.”
Street Band, whose first stakes win wasn't until the Fair Grounds Oaks, was a notoriously difficult filly but has become more relaxed through the efforts of Jones' team and Doyle.
“She's coming around. She's a lot better than she was the first time I rode her at the Fair Grounds last fall,” Doyle said. “She's really coming into herself. Today before we worked, she stood on the track by herself for a minute or two, whereas before you had to just turn around and go. You couldn't stand her still.”
While Jones was busy with his division at Keeneland, among the owners on hand to watch Street Band train Monday were Francis and Phillip Shelton, who manage Taylor Made Farm's Medallion Racing partnership. The MyRacehorse partnership also has a minority share in the filly.
Medallion Racing seeks to bring people into racing at a high level but through a relatively low price point by buying into stakes horses. The partnership bought 25-percent of Street Band after her Fair Grounds Oaks victory, with Taylor Made to consign her at auction following her racing career as part of the deal.
“We think she's at her absolutely peak right now,” Shelton said. “She's getting better every day, so we're looking forward to Nov. 2. There were four Grade 1 winners in the Cotillion, with the 2-year-old champion (Jaywalk) and the early-season 3-year-old favorite in Bellafina. Then you had Serengeti Empress, who won the Kentucky Oaks. And none of those three were the best 3-year-old filly in the country, which at that point would have been Guarana. So it was a very tough field.
“I wasn't expecting us to be that far back. But if you watch all of her races, she takes like an eighth of a mile to get into her stride. Once she does, she can go 45-and-change for a half-mile. She travels incredibly strong, but we knew drawing down to the inside there was a chance they could come over on us, which is kind of exactly what happened. But Sophie gave her a great ride. I told some of our guys afterward, 'To me, she was the only rider who was going to win on her that day.' Up until that point, you wanted to be up near the pace, and we were 12 lengths off. Someone else could have rushed her up, as opposed to letting her settle and make that middle move you don't see horses make too often.”
Street Band prepped for the Cotillion in Saratoga's 1 1/4-mile Alabama, finishing third to triumphant Dunbar Road but only a nose out of second.
“Once she gets in the bit and she's traveling, she just gallops horses into the ground,” Shelton said, adding of the Alabama, “You could see she was loaded on the far turn and couldn't get through. What she doesn't have is a big burst. She's got that little bit of one-paced (move). But she's a very fast galloper. She just couldn't get through, then she got nailed on the line for second. But it's three races in a row that she's run that are very good and heading into the Breeders' Cup in the right direction. That's just full credit to Larry and his team.”
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