SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Augustin Stable’s debut maiden winner Empress Tigress made her first stakes outing a successful one with a well-timed ride from Hall of Famer John Velazquez in Friday’s $150,000 Coronation Cup for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs over the Mellon turf course at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Jonathan Thomas, Empress Tigress made her turf debut after a first-out maiden win going the Coronation Cup distance over the Woodbine synthetic on May 22. The chestnut daughter of Classic Empire brought the shortest resume to the field of eight fillies, but came home a half-length the best with a mature off-the-pace effort.
“We were kind of waiting to bring her up here because I loved the five and a half [furlongs] aspect of this race, so it was the right time,” said Thomas.
Breaking from the outermost post 8, Empress Tigress came away with the lead but was held by Velazquez, who allowed Mystic Eyes to take charge and mark swift splits of 21.77 seconds and 44.33 over the firm turf with Artos tracking in third.
Velazquez roused Empress Tigress in the turn as Mystic Eyes began to toil with the Jose Ortiz-piloted Poppy Flower making up ground with every stride on the far outside of the field. Empress Tigress took the advantage as she straightened for the drive to the wire, but was left to deal with the looming Poppy Flower down the center of the racetrack as the rest of the field bunched up in a battle for show.
Poppy Flower closed the gap between her and Empress Tigress and made one last lunge a few strides before the wire, but Empress Tigress would not be denied, stopping the clock in a final time of 1:01.70.
The graded stakes-placed Derrynane put in a strong late bid to pick up show honors a half-length ahead of the slow-starting post-time favorite Static Fire in fourth. Artos, Lady Scarlet, Mystic Eyes and Sweet Solare completed the order of finish. Marissa’s Lady, Benbang, Twilight Gleaming and Everyoneloveslinda, who was entered for the main-track only, were scratched.
Thomas said he felt confident when Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner and morning-line favorite Twilight Gleaming scratched from the race.
“The scratch definitely reinforced staying in for sure. A filly like Twilight Gleaming coming out made it an easier decision to stay in,” said Thomas. “She was training well and you only get these opportunities so many times so you have to take advantage of them.”
Velazquez said Empress Tigress relished the change in surface.
“She definitely loved the grass,” said Velazquez. “He [Thomas] told me she was going to break really well, but to try and sit off for a little bit the first part, and she settled. By the quarter-pole, I made sure she got her run in and she went on.”
Thomas added he was pleased that Empress Tigress was able to save something for the end.
“When that filly came running at her for second I [was anxious], but I thought we had enough to hold her off,” said Thomas.
Poppy Flower put in a strong run for second despite an eventful start when she popped the front of the gate and dumped Ortiz behind her before he re-mounted for a clean break. Ortiz said the daughter of Lea gave a good account of herself.
“She ran a very good race,” Ortiz said. “I thought [that he could catch the winner] at the top of the lane, but that filly won first time out impressively and she [Poppy Flower] proved today that she belongs with this kind. They were going pretty fast. I was happy where I was. No complaints.”
Empress Tigress, who was bred in Kentucky by Springhouse Farm, returned $9.20 for a $2 win wager. Out of the unraced Tale of the Cat mare Tigress Tale, Empress Tigress was purchased for $40,000 out of the Gainseway consignment at the 2022 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale. She earned $82,500 for the victory, boosting her total purse earnings to $161,900 and notching a perfect 2-for-2 record.
Live racing resumes Saturday at Saratoga Race Course with an 11-race card, featuring the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana in Race 8 and the Grade 3, $175,000 Sanford in Race 10. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
By Mary Eddy
Photo by Chelsea Durand