For She’s a Julie, 2020 did not start off on the best of notes.
She made her 5-year-old debut May 23 in the Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs, where she was the quite logical 2-1 second choice behind 2019 Alabama Stakes winner Dunbar Road.
After all, in her 17 career starts, she had six wins, including one a Grade 1 stakes at the home of the Twin Spires, and had finished in the top three in graded stakes on eight occasions.
Unfortunately, all of that consistency did her little good in the Shawnee, when she reared at the start and could not flash her typical early speed and wound up a well-beaten sixth, 13 1/4 lengths behind Dunbar Road.
It was hardly the kind of effort that serves as a powerful springboard to future success, yet it was enough for trainer Steve Asmussen to draw a line through the race and point She’s a Julie to the $300,000, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park.
“It was the boss’ decision,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s New York-based assistant, about the decision to run in the Phipps. “You had to throw the last one out. You know she can run better than that.”
Drawing a line through She’s a Julie’s last start was surely the right move in the Phipps as the daughter of Elusive Quality went off at the longest odds in a field of six but reverted to top form at an opportune time. She beat Point of Honor to the finish line by a nose in a stirring stretch battle to capture the June 13 stakes at a spectator-less Belmont Park.
“I had to watch it one more time to be sure,” Sheets said about the narrow margin of victory that earned She’s a Julie a free spot in the year-end Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff through the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. “It was very close.”
So close, that it served as another tough loss for Point of Honor, who finished second in a Grade 1 stakes for the third time.
“Sometimes I think it’s easier to lose by four lengths than a nose,” Point of Honor's trainer, George Weaver, said. “You start thinking about all the things you could have done differently, but we’re all very proud of her. She ran her eyeballs out once again. There was nothing shameful about this loss. She always gives 110%.”
For She’s a Julie, it was her first victory in more than a year as her last appearance in the winner’s circle came in May 2019 when she prevailed in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs. Though she was winless in her last five starts before Saturday, she was third in three of them — each of the trio coming in graded stakes company — and her quality and reliability is best reflected in a career slate of seven wins, two seconds, and four thirds in 19 career starts with earnings of $1,187,880 for her ownership group of Bradley Thoroughbreds, Tim and Anna Cambron, Denali Stud, Rigney Racing, and Madaket Stables.
“Everybody put a lot of effort into this filly,” winning rider Ricardo Santana Jr. said. “Steve said he wanted me to go to New York. She’s doing good. I worked her and we were really happy with her. Steve knows what he’s doing and I always listen to him.
“To be honest, she’s training unbelievable. When I came from Oaklawn, Steve made me go to Keeneland to work her. When I worked her, I said, ‘She’s training unbelievable.’ She ran her race today.”
She’s a Julie was fourth after a quick :45.98 opening half-mile as Blamed held a length lead over 2-1 favorite Ollie's Candy.
Blamed tired after six furlongs in 1:09.86 as Ollie’s Candy scooted clear and led by 2 1/2 lengths in midstretch. But from the back, She’s a Julie, sent off at 14.70-1 odds, and Point of Honor, the slight second betting choice with Javier Castellano aboard, came charging in the final sixteenth.
As Ollie’s Candy weakened slightly, the head bob at the finish line came down to She’s a Julie and Point of Honor, with the Asmussen-trainee ($31.40) getting the nod from between horses by a slim margin.
“I sat in the spot I wanted. I knew she was going to give it to me, and she kicked it in,” Santana said.