Great Point Stables, Highclere America, and Zoom and Fish Stable's Happy Mesa was the last-to-first victress of Friday's $100,000 Hilltop Stakes, giving jockey Javier Castellano a natural hat trick on the afternoon. The 3-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa covered a mile over Pimlico's firm turf course in 1:33.61, just one-fifth of a second off the track record. Trained by Graham Motion, Happy Mesa bested runner-up Compelled by about 1 1/4 lengths.
“After Florida we decided to point for this race and give her the time,” Motion said. “She's very honest, this filly. She's very game. I don't think Gulfstream was exactly her spot, but I give the owners a lot of credit. They wanted to run in this spot. I think this mile might be a really good distance for her. I'm not certain how much farther she wants to go.”
Dynatail got the first call out of the starting gates, but Victory to Victory rushed up the inside to take over the lead into the first turn. Rank under the hands of Florent Geroux, Victory to Victory ripped off fractions of 22.78 and 45.93 seconds, flying over the course 1 1/2 lengths in front of Dynatail. My Sweet Stella and Dance Queen were next, with Compelled and Happy Mesa bringing up the rear of the field.
Appraoching the far turn, Dynatail began to up the pressure on the frontrunner, but Victory to Victory had a little bit left in the tank. Still on the lead at the head of the lane, she was again challenged, this time by Compelled, who'd made an inside move around the turn then angled to the leader's outside. This time, Victory to Victory folded, the early fractions too much for the classy filly. Around the outside of the course came Happy Mesa, flying down the lane in the final sixteenth of a mile to easily blow past her rivals and cross the wire about 1 1/4 lengths in front. Compelled had to settle for second, and Dynatail hung on to third over Victory to Victory in fourth.
“She was very impressive and broke very well,” Castellano said. “I give all the credit to Graham Motion and the owners who told me how to ride the horse. They gave me some tips, I put it together and it worked out great. There was a lot of speed in the race, so I took back and saved ground. I felt it was a hot pace, so I took my time. It paid off today.”
Bred in Kentucky by Branch Equine, Happy Mesa was a $20,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase. The filly won her first two starts, including a listed stake at Laurel Park, but was a disappointing 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She has been improving her form with each start this season, and this win brings her overall record to three wins and two seconds from eight starts, with earnings of over $160,000.
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