SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Con Lima set leisurely fractions down the backstretch and captured a third graded stakes triumph in Sunday’s third running of the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational for sophomore fillies going 1 3/16 miles over the Mellon turf at Saratoga Race Course.
The Saratoga Oaks Invitational is the second leg of the Turf Triple series for sophomore fillies, which also includes the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational, and the $1 million Jockey Club Oaks Invitational on September 18 at Belmont Park.
Con Lima arrived at Sunday’s engagement off a runner-up finish in the Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 10, where she flaunted her usual frontrunning tactics, but was no match for the devastating turn-of-foot of Santa Barbara. But in the second leg of the Turf Triple series, she would not be denied, leading at every point of call and fending off a late challenge from Higher Truth, who was third in the Belmont Oaks.
Breaking from post 5 under Flavien Prat, Con Lima registered splits of 23.64 seconds for the opening quarter mile and 50.02 for the half with Gam’s Mission tracking a close second and Higher Truth to her inside in third.
Prat asked more of his charge nearing the quarter pole and she extended her advantage to 1 ½ lengths in mid-stretch. In the last sixteenth of a mile, jockey Jose Ortiz tipped out Higher Truth from the inside and made a late rally. Con Lima held off the late challenge to win by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:54.42. Higher Truth was second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Creative Flair – one of two European invaders in the field.
Completing the order of finish were Plum Ali, Gam’s Mission, Out of Sorts, Messidor and Rocky Sky.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Con Lima earned previous graded stakes scores in the Grade 3 Wonder Again on June 3 and the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride on February 22 at Gulfstream Park – one of her nine starts on the South Florida oval.
Previously trained by Carlos David, Con Lima was transferred to Pletcher following a second out maiden score at Gulfstream in July 2020. Her first start for Pletcher was a distant second to Simply Ravishing in an off-the-turf P.G. Johnson on September 3. She is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Joseph Graffeo, Eric Nikolaus Del Toro and Troy Johnson.
Prat said he had a much easier time on the front end when Godolphin homebred Creative Flair, piloted by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, broke slowly.
“The speed was pretty much me and the Godolphin filly and it seems she broke a step slow. I broke better than her and I ended up on the lead,” said Prat, who earned his third stakes score of the Saratoga meet. “Going to the first turn I felt really comfortable. I was really pleased with the way she was traveling, and I felt we were doing some easy fractions. She really kicked on well.”
Pletcher said he was unsure how the race would unfold from a pace standpoint with the presence of two European-based contenders.
“I was analyzing the race beforehand and we were the only speed, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure with a couple of the Euros if they would show some initiative,” Pletcher said. “I left it in Flavien’s hands and Plan A was to break well and see if anybody would try to take the lead away from us and if they didn’t, we’d be happy to have it. It worked out really well.”
Pletcher expressed satisfaction in Prat’s ride.
“He just gradually got up there instead of having to hustle her and use her,” Pletcher said. “She relaxed really well. You could see when she turned up the backside and her ears were flicking back and forth that she was in a happy zone.
“People asked me if I was confident, she would handle the distance,” added Pletcher, who also conditioned her multiple graded stakes-winning sire Commissioner. “I’ve always thought she would handle the distance. I’m a little surprised at where the turf comes from. It’s not obvious in her pedigree, but she seems to handle it really well.”
Returning $8.10 as the lukewarm favorite, the $15,000 yearling purchase banked $375,000 in victory, enhancing her lifetime earnings to $884,865.
Bred in Texas by Lisa Kuhlmann, Con Lima is out of the Consolidator mare Second Street City.
Live action resumes Wednesday with a 10-race program headlined by the $100,000 Evan Shipman for New York-breds going nine furlongs over the main track and the $120,000 Mahony for sophomores going 5 ½ furlongs over the Mellon turf. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Oaks Invitational Replay
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By Ryan Martin/NYRA Press Office
Photo: Con Lime (Chelsea Durand)