Godolphin Racing LLC's Better Lucky came charging late to pull off the upset in Monday's $95,000 Shine Again Stakes at Saratoga, and spoiled the return of champion My Miss Aurelia, who was making her first start in over a year.
"I was getting a little bit concerned until I saw the :44 and change pop up there, and then I thought she could close; it would just be a matter of getting there in time," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "When they were turning for home, I could see she was getting a little closer, then at the eighth pole, I knew she was going to get up there. It worked out perfectly."
Better Lucky dropped well off the pace in the four-horse field as Bridgehampton posted opening fractions of :22 3/5 and :44 3/5 before losing the lead late.
"It was a beautiful trip, jockey Javier Castellano said. "That's where I wanted to be at, that's the way I handicapped the race."
Better Lucky was 12 1/2 lengths back after a half-mile and looked like she left too much ground to make up. Grace Hall, the 6-5 favorite, and My Miss Aurelia were side by side as they closed in on the leader in midstretch. Those two bumped just outside the eighth pole causing Grace Hall to lose some ground, but she fought back to claim the lead from My Miss Aurelia in the final yards. Meanwhile, Better Lucky had a clean trip on the outside and managed to mount a furious rally to get up at the wire by a head.
"At one point in the backside, I felt in my mind that they went pretty quick," Castellano added. "I could feel that I didn't want to go at the same pace with my horse. I didn't want to take away anything. I didn't want to be too far back, but I didn't want to ask her too much. And it worked out perfectly, because at the top of the stretch I saw the horses starting to come back to me. They started to slow down, like they were in slow motion. In the right place at the right time.
"I know she's got a good kick, but I just had to find the best place to use it. 'Better lucky,' you know? I found the best place and I won the way the race unfolded. A lot of speed horses in the race. They went pretty quick, but it paid off in the long term."
Grace Hall took second by a half-length over third-place finisher My Miss Aurelia, who was a length clear of Bridgehampton in last. Angel's Glory and Toasting were scratched.
"I think she was the best horse in the race," said Bill Mott, trainer or runner-up Grace Hall. "She was bothered at the three-sixteenths pole and had to come out of there and go around, and she had to alter course at the eighth pole."
"I thought she ran very well," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of My Miss Aurelia. "She hadn't run in a long time, and she fought hard and just got a little tired in the last hundred yards. I think she showed a lot of try and I just left her a little bit short."
Better Lucky covered seven furlongs in 1:22 2/5 over the fast main track. This was her first start on the dirt since capturing an optional claiming race at Belmont in May 2012. The five-year-old mare went off as the 5-1 longest shot on the board and rewarded her backers $12.20 for the victory.
"I think seven-eighths to a mile is really her best distance. Surface doesn't really matter; she's won on three different types of surfaces. She's a really talented filly and she was on her game today. Hopefully we can use this to go to the (Grade 1, $500,000) Ballerina (on August 23)."
Better Lucky followed up her optional claiming win with her first stakes victory in the Grade 2 Sands Point on the grass at Belmont later that month. The bay closed out her sophomore campaign with a victory in the Matriarch over the late turf course at Hollywood Park.
The daughter of Ghostzapper was fourth (but promoted to third) in the Jenny Wiley in April 2013 at Keeneland to kick off her four-year-old campaign. Better Lucky was a close second next time in the Just a Game at Belmont in June. She was not seen again for three months, and returned with a wide-trip third in the September 14 Noble Damsel back at Belmont. She claimed a head victory in First Lady at Keeneland on October 5 and closed out 2014 with a third-place finish in the Matriarch.
Better Lucky finished runner-up in the Madison over the Keeneland Polytrack in April and was exiting an eighth-place finish in the Just A Game at Belmont on June 7. The bay banked $60,000 for her fourth stakes win and has a career mark of 17-6-3-5, $993,950.
Bred by Darley in Kentucky, Better Lucky is a half-sister to Canadian Grade 3 winner Sahara Heat and to the unraced Forest City Girl, the dam of Panamanian champion Outskirt Lady. Better Lucky is out of the Grade 2-winning Seeking the Gold mare Sahara Gold, who is herself a full sister to the stakes-placed Ensenada, dam of multiple Grade 2 scorer Casino Host.
Better Lucky's second dam, Desert Stormer, famously defeated males in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint. Other prominent family members include unbeaten Group 1 queen White Moonstone, Canadian champion Sound Reason and this year's Spiral hero Black Onyx.