ELMONT, N.Y. – An exhilarating final furlong in the Grade 1, $250,000 Flower Bowl Invitational saw Civil Union prevail over a trio of Chad Brown runners and emerge victorious in a photo-finish over My Sister Nat to take the 1 ¼-mile turf event for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The 42nd edition of the Flower Bowl, contested on Belmont’s inner turf course, was a “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup, which netted the Joseph Allen homebred an automatic berth into the Filly and Mare Turf on November 7 at Keeneland.
It’s been a long road for Civil Union, who has blossomed at the age of 5 after some stops and starts earlier in her career. The bay daughter of War Front, now trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, began her career in Brown’s care with a debut victory as a 3-year-old in 2018, but after making one more start as a sophomore she was forced to hit the sidelines for over a year. She returned to the races late in 2019, and after a fourth-place finish in an Aqueduct turf mile was transferred to McGaughey at the start of 2020.
Civil Union finished third in her first start with McGaughey on January 30 at Gulfstream Park, but after another lengthy absence from the racetrack she returned new and improved in a June 21 allowance at Belmont to kick off a four-race win streak which included stakes victories in the River Memories and Grade 2 Glens Falls that culminated in Saturday’s Grade 1 triumph.
“When she started off this winter in Florida, I never imagined that she would be a Grade 1 winner,” said McGaughey. “I liked her race and I didn’t really know what to expect. She’s progressed the right way. It’s fun. She’s a nice mare to train and nice to be around.”
With her regular rider Jose Ortiz opting for her main rival My Sister Nat in the Flower Bowl, Civil Union retained the services of Joel Rosario, who was aboard in the Glens Falls. The pair broke from post 3 and settled at the back of the pack as race favorite Cambier Parc bounded to the front out of the gate before conceding the early lead to Lovely Lucky, who set a measured pace of 24.62 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.93 for the half, and 1:14.36 for three-quarters on the firm turf.
My Sister Nat took up residence at the rear of the field, not too far behind her stablemate Nay Lady Nay, who also settled well off the pace, and positions remained mostly unchanged until Cambier Parc came calling for the lead leaving the far turn, with a mile going in 1:38.27 on the firm turf, though her time in the sun was short-lived as the three closers lined up to fire their best shots.
Nay Lady Nay and My Sister Nat were swung to the far outside to launch their rallies, but Rosario instead committed to saving ground around the final bend with Civil Union, which may have made all the difference. Tipped out from cover in upper stretch, Civil Union surged to the front at the eighth pole as Nay Lady Nay fought on between horses and My Sister Nat was in full flight on the far outside. In the final sixteenth of a mile it was still anyone’s race, but Civil Union had just enough left to keep a hard-charging My Sister Nat at bay by a head on the wire.
“It was close in the end, but she got the job done,” said Rosario. “She’s a push-button filly. When you want her to go, she’s just there for you, so she makes it easy for us. She gallops and gallops and had enough left to finish. It’s nice to ride those kinds.
“She broke just fine and I was real comfortable where I was,” Rosario added. “I let her settle a bit because we were going a mile and a quarter and tried to wait to the last part before I made my move turning for home. I went inside a little bit and she handled everything well and then came out turning for home. It was good.”
Civil Union completed the distance in 2:01.28 and returned $8.10 on a $2 win wager. The victory also increased her career earnings to $396,810 and gave McGaughey his first win in the Flower Bowl since 2017 with War Flag, who was also owned and bred by Allen.
As for a potential date in the Breeders’ Cup, McGaughey was noncommittal but optimistic that she’d be able to make it.
“I’ll have to wait and see and see how she comes out of it,” said the veteran horseman. “It was probably a hard race on her, but she’s a big and strong mare. I’ll see what Mr. [Joseph] Allen wants to do. If she was doing as well as she’s done all summer, it’s probably worth giving a whirl. But I’ll just have to wait and see.”
The Brown runners rounded out the superfecta, with My Sister Nat leading the triumvirate by three-quarters of a length over Nay Lady Nay, who finished another 2 ¾ lengths in front of Cambier Parc. Unable to reverse the decision in the Glens Falls, in which Civil Union bested her by a length, My Sister Nat’s runner-up finish was her third of the year for owner Peter Brant.
La Signare, Beau Belle, and Lovely Lucky completed the order of finish.
Flower Bowl Replay
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont Park with a 10-race card highlighted by the 130th running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Futurity, a six-furlong turf sprint offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint on November 6 at Keeneland. It is one of two turf stakes for juveniles on the 10-race card, with the Grade 3, $100,000 Matron for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs also on the docket. First post is 12:50 p.m.
BELMONT Entries Sunday, October 11
Press Release Photo: Civil Union beats My Sister Nat to the wire. Credit: NYRA/Coglianese