With her rallying victory in Saturday's $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Philadelphia's Parx Racing, Street Band became the fifth Grade 1 winner to come out of Ellis Park's 2018 2-year-old races.
Street Band — whom jockey Sophie Doyle rode to a 2 1/4-length victory over previously unbeaten favorite Guarana — earned a fees-paid (worth $60,000) berth in the $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
The Cotillion heroine joins Knicks Go (Keeneland's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity last October), Hog Creek Hustle (Belmont Park's Woody Stephens in June) and Henley's Joy (Belmont Derby in July) as horses who earned their first victory at Ellis Park in 2018 and went on to win Grade 1 races. Serengeti Empress, among the fillies Street Band defeated at Parx, won last year's Ellis Park Debutante by 13 lengths and in May captured the Kentucky Oaks.
“Wow,” veteran Ellis Park trainer and Henderson resident Larry Jones, who also is Street Band's co-owner and breeder, said when told about the Grade 1 productivity of last year's 2-year-olds. “Ellis has always had good 2-year-olds, and it's only going to get better. Now that their pots (purses) are back, it's like Ellis is alive again. It's not just something the dates have to be filled for the state of Kentucky. I've talked to a lot of people, and there are going to be more people stabled there next summer than this summer. A lot of people said 'We're not even going to worry about trying to go to Saratoga.' … The track is so kind to your horses.”
Jones bred and campaigns Street Band with wife Cindy and Ray Francis of Henderson, with Medallion Racing and MyRaceHorse Stable buying minority interests after the daughter of the Airdrie Stud stallion Istan won New Orleans' Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks in March. The filly now has earned $1,069,900 with Saturday's $600,000 payday.
The 1 1/16-mile Cotillion became the objective as soon as Street Band won Indiana Grand's Grade 3 Indiana Oaks. Because he wanted the filly at her very best for the $1 million stakes, Jones ran her in between in Saratoga's Grade 1 Alabama, where she was a deceptively good third.
“It's a major gamer,” Jones said of the Cotillion, which he also won in 2015 with I'm a Chatterbox. “There are only two $1 million races for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks being the other. Luckily it came together. The Alabama was kind of the 'iffy' race. I laugh and tell everybody, 'This filly is a bounce and bounce-back horse.' If you look, it's like she's an every-other-race horse.”
Indeed, Street Band finished fourth in the Fair Grounds' Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra after an allowance victory, then subsequently won the Fair Grounds Oaks, came in seventh in the Kentucky Oaks and rebounded in the Indiana Oaks.
“So after the Indiana Oaks, I said, 'I've got to get her a race before the Cotillion, so we can get her a bad race out of the way,'” Jones said. “That wound up being the Alabama. Even running third, that's not what you call a horrible race. So I thought, 'Boy, if this is our “bounce” race, we ought to really bounce forward for the Cotillion.' And it looks like she did.”
Jones joked that he might have to find another race in order to have Street Band primed for the Breeders' Cup.
“I'm thinking about taking her down to Evangeline Downs and getting a little loss in her,” he quipped, adding, “Hopefully if we bounce bad this time, it will be almost equivalent to what we did Saturday. I think she's just getting better, and maybe we're learning how to train her a little.”
Street Band paid $17.40 to win as the fifth choice in the Cotillion's field of eleven 3-year-old fillies. It was Francis' first Grade 1 winner since the Jones-trained Wildcat Bettie B won Belmont's Prioress in 2006.
“That's a wonderful feeling,” said Francis, who wasn't able to make the Cotillion but plans to be at Santa Anita. “She came back and beat several of the horses who had beaten us before. She's still improving, and I think she still has quite a bit of upside. That was just a wonderful race, to come from last. Sophie rode a great race, and they showed a lot of grit and determination…. The only concern is she does like to come from off the pace, and sometimes you do get in trouble. But boy, she's really learning, picking up things right and left.”
The Cotillion was the first Grade 1 victory for Doyle.
“What an amazing filly,” the jockey said after the race. “She's really proved how good she is…. My first Grade 1, too. I'm absolutely over the moon.”
Doyle thanked Street Band's owners for their loyalty, saying, “What an opportunity to keep the faith and get us to the top. Fingers crossed now to the big one and the Breeders' Cup.”
Jones said that had Street Band lost, or if the Cotillion winner didn't get the free roll into the Distaff, he's not sure he would take a 3-year-old to run in the Breeders' Cup against older fillies and mares — especially with having to go to California this year.
“I might be looking for another spot, because I am tight with my money,” he said. “I don't want to be throwing $40,000 at a race where I might not get my $40,000 back. But with all the expenses paid, definitely that's what we're training for now.”
Ellis Park almost got its sixth Grade 1 winner from last year's 2-year-old class in the race after the Cotillion. But long shot Math Wizard nailed Mr. Money in the final strides to take the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by a neck. Mr. Money, owned by Chester Thomas of Madisonville, Ky., made his first two starts last summer at Ellis Park. He came into the Pennsylvania Derby off a streak of four straight impressive Grade 3 wins.
Meanwhile, the current 2-year-olds who ran at Ellis Park are quickly making names for themselves. Nucky, who finished fourth in an Ellis maiden race, returned to trainer Peter Miller's main California base and two races later won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. The Eddie Kenneally-trained Abscond, who prevailed by a head in her racing debut in an Ellis turf sprint, won Woodbine's Grade 1 Natalma at a mile by a nose to earn a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Nov. 1.
Though he didn't win a Grade 1 race, Ellis Park's 19 1/4-length maiden winner Dennis' Moment captured Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 14. That's a “Win and You're In” race for the Breeders' Cup's $2 million TVG Juvenile, for which Dennis' Moment very well could be favored.
The Brad Cox-trained Jezebel's Kitten (Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies) and Mark Casse-trained Peace Achieved (Gainesway Farm Juvenile) used Ellis maiden wins as launching pads to victory in $500,000 stakes at Kentucky Downs. Both are expected to run next in graded stakes that serve as “Win and You're In” races for the Breeders' Cup's 2-year-old turf stakes.
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