ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Todd Pletcher barely cracked a smile after the 60th running of the $300,000, Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes on July 2 at Belmont Park.
As pleased as he was to see front-running Off the Tracks click off brisk fractions to prevail by 3 ½ lengths over Lewis Bay for her first Grade 1 victory, he was perplexed by the up-the-track performance by regally bred Rachel’s Valentina.
“You lose even when you win,” Pletcher said.
In one sense, the Mother Goose played out exactly as the trainer thought it would. In another sense, it did not work out at all since favored Rachel’s Valentina was well positioned but never mounted the late charge expected of her in finishing fifth.
The part that was anticipated had Off the Tracks, breaking from the second post-position in a field of seven, gunning to the front under jockey Jose Ortiz.
“We felt if we got a clean break there was a decent chance we would be on the lead,” Pletcher said. “Even though the fractions were fast, the track seems to be playing fast.”
The bay daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin zipped through the opening quarter-mile in :22.79. With Mom’s On Strike all but attached to her right flank, she maintained a high cruising speed through a half-mile that went in :45.53. She was unrelenting in covering three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.62 en route to a final time of 1:41.01 for the 1 1/16-mile contest in only her third start for Pletcher.
She entered his barn after she opened her career with a three-race winning streak. She took third in her first start for him, in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 2. She continued to progress when she finished second to Carina Mia in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11 with highly regarded Cathryn Sophia in third.
“She is a filly who has always shown big potential,” Pletcher said. “Everyone was sort of down on her after the Gulfstream Oaks, but I thought it was a sneaky-good race.”
As for Rachel’s Valentina, a daughter of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra who was sired by Bernardini, there are no easy explanations for why she has fallen so far off the tracks after she showed great promise as a 2-year-old, winning a Grade 1 race and finishing second to Songbird in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
She began her 3-year-old campaign with a strong effort in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, missing by a neck to Weep No More. But then she was a well-beaten sixth in the Kentucky Oaks before her dull effort in the Mother Goose.
Yes, she stumbled and was bumped at the start of the Mother Goose. Neither Pletcher nor her jockey, John Velazquez, viewed that as an excuse.
“She wasn’t trying for whatever reason,” Velazquez said. “Everything felt well. She didn’t want to do it, I guess. It’s strange.”
Said Pletcher: “I really don’t have a great explanation. It looked like she was in a decent spot, but Johnny seemed like he had to start asking her a lot earlier than you would expect him to. We’ll see how she comes out and try to regroup.”
Pletcher expressed concern that there could be a physical issue that has gone undetected.
“That’s not like her,” he said. “We’ll check her over and see if there is something we can figure out.”
Pletcher’s Mo d’Amour, a longshot, ran fourth.
Trainer Chad Brown was disappointed in Lewis Bay, who was in striking distance in third for most of the way for Irad Ortiz Jr. She never threatened Off the Tracks.
“She was sitting there loaded the whole way,” Brown said. “I thought when she tipped out she’d go right by that horse, and she just ran even down the lane.”