Ce Ce Punches Breeders' Cup Ticket with Princess Rooney Win

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Ce Ce crossed the wire first in the Princess Rooney Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The only Grade 1 winner in an eight-horse field for the $350,000 Grade 2 Princess Rooney Invitational Stakes July 3 at Gulfstream Park, Bo Hirsch's homebred Ce Ce returned to the form that saw her win twice at the highest level last year.

The Michael McCarthy trainee stormed from off the pace to give Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza a sweep of the Saturday stakes at Gulfstream after he took the $200,000 Grade 3 Smile Sprint Invitational Stakes one race earlier on Miles Ahead--- a pickup mount after original rider Edwin Gonzalez took off due to being thrown in the previous race.

"She's pretty impressive," Espinoza said. "She loves this track, it's a little different than what she's been running at.

Ce Ce settled along the rail in mid-pack on the backstretch as Heiressall set a quick early pace, closely pressed by Pacific Gale during a :22.55 first quarter. Pacific Gale, a two-time graded-stakes winner during the championship meet, took over through a half in :44.90, and was quickly joined by Sound Machine to her outside.

Estilo Talentoso, the 6-5 favorite who got away slowly, made a sweeping move into contention on the turn into the stretch, only to be joined by Ce Ce to her inside. After splitting horses, the eventual winner sprinted away to a 3 1/4-length score. She ran seven furlongs in 1:21.94 as the 5-2 second choice, and returned $7.40 on a $2 win ticket.

Estilo Talentoso edged Sound Machine by a head for second.

"Today, she ran her race," Espinoza said. "They were rolling, the ones in front of me. I know they're going to get tired turning for home, so I just gave her enough time to split the horses."

It was the first graded stakes score for 5-year-old Ce Ce since the 2020 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap victory she earned on the heels of her first top-level win in the 2020 Grade 1 Beholder Mile Stakes. The win was also a rebound after her fourth in the May 22 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita Park, which came after a victorious April 17 season debut in allowance-level company at the California track. The daughter of Elusive Quality wrapped up her 4-year-old season with a fifth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland.

Ce Ce earned a fees-paid berth to the Nov. 6 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Del Mar with her victory in the Princess Rooney, a Breeders' Cup Challenge event.

McCarthy, who watched the Princess Rooney at Los Alamitos Race Course in Southern California, was pleased with how the race set up for his contender.

Ce Ce and jockey Victor Espinoza after their Princess Rooney win. (Lauren King/Coglianese Photo)

"I thought we were in a good spot," he said. "I was hoping to have a bit of a target to run at. I told Victor not to get in a hurry and not rush her out of there and ride her where she was comfortable. We were hoping for a nice stalking trip, and that we did. Around the turn it looked like we had plenty of run. It was just a matter of trying to get outside and finding our best stride, and we did that today."

"I thought she was overlooked last year. She won two grade 1 races back-to-back," McCarthy said. "After that we just couldn't find a track that was suitable for her. She was running on tracks in California that were a little bit deep and a little bit loose. She wants one that is a bit firmer and faster, and we found that today.”

McCarthy said Ce Ce is likely to show up at Saratoga Race Course for her next start. The chestnut mare improved her record to 6-1-2 from 16 starts, with earnings of $1,113,100.

"We'll bring her back to California, and see how she comes out of this race," he said, "Everything is on the table."

Bred in Kentucky, Ce Ce is out of the Belong to Me mare Miss Houdini, winner of the 2002 Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes for trainer Warren Stute. Now 21, Miss Houdini has produced three other black-type runners, including two-time graded stakes winner Papa Clem (by Smart Strike). Her last reported foal is an unraced American Pharoah 2-year-old colt named Native Thunder. She was reported bred to Midnight Lute for 2021.

2021 Princess Rooney Invitational S.
July 3rd, 2021

5 Ce Ce
8 Sound Machine
7 Hallawallah
4 Pacific Gale
6 Laura's Light
2 Heiressall
3 Thissmytime

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