Falconet notched her second stakes victory under Jose Lezcano. (Susie Raisher)
By Mary Eddy
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.’s graded stakes-placed Falconet repelled a late rally from post-time favorite Kathleen O. to secure her second stakes victory in Sunday’s $100,000 Top Flight, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Falconet worked out a stalking trip under Jose Lezcano to post the determined victory, her first since taking the Ladies over the same course and distance on January 1. The 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo arrived from a runner-up effort in the February 18 Heavenly Prize Invitational traveling a one-turn mile here.
“She appears to prefer the two turns,” said Byron Hughes, Pletcher’s Belmont Park-based assistant. “She’s very consistent but the two turns is something she seems to enjoy more.”
Away cleanly from the inside post in the field of five, Falconet took back along the rail as Mommasgottarun was angled to the two-path from post 3 to take command through the first turn and mark an opening quarter mile in 23.88 seconds over the fast main track.
Falconet held a one-length advantage over the Dylan Davis-piloted Timeless Journey down the backstretch while Kathleen O., the 2-5 mutuel favorite who broke a step slow under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, trailed in last as the half-mile elapsed in 48.79.
Falconet came under a ride from Lezcano entering the far turn and advanced to the outside of Mommasgottarun to put her head in front as the rail remained open for Timeless Journey to find room and challenge for the lead. Meanwhile, Kathleen O. ranged up on the far outside to make her run at the top two approaching the eighth pole. Falconet kicked clear from Timeless Journey near the sixteenth pole and drew off to cross the wire 2 1/4 lengths clear of Kathleen O. in a final time of 1:51.42.
Timeless Journey completed the trifecta a half-length behind Kathleen O. with the Pletcher-trained Let Her Inspire U finishing fourth, a half-length ahead of Mommasgottarun. Easy to Bless, who is entered in Friday’s Grade 3 Distaff Handicap at the Big A, and Sweet Willemina were scratched.
Sonny Taylor, of NYRA presents the Top Flight Trophy to Jockey Jose Lezcano, and Byron Hughes, Pletcher Assistant Trainer at Belmont (NYRA Coglianese)
Hughes said he was pleased with the trip Lezcano worked out for Falconet.
“I thought Jose did a great job of helping her out of there going into the first turn and sat just behind the speed,” said Hughes. “He saved ground throughout, tipped her out around the far turn and was able to pull away a little bit at the end.”
Lezcano, who has been aboard for all three of Falconet’s starts this year, echoed Hughes’ sentiments about Falconet’s preferred distances.
Lezcano smiles broadly after his win aboard Falconet. (NYRA/Coglianese)
“She’s nice – she did everything right,” said Lezcano. “She broke well today. I think last time the [shorter] distance got to her, and they went so slow. I think today, with more distance she was confident the whole way. When I asked her, she went on very well.”
The victory capped a prosperous weekend for Pletcher, who sent out top Kentucky Derby hopeful Forte to a gutsy victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby yesterday at Gulfstream Park, one of four victories on the card at the Hallandale Beach oval. Pletcher, who also trains Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns and Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby victor Tapit Trice, is expected to start the trio of Dreamlike, Classic Catch and Crupi in the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on Saturday at the Big A, a 100-40-30-20-10 qualifier for the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re all excited. Forte ran big yesterday,” said Hughes. “We have Tapit Trice and Kingsbarns, so we’re pretty pumped up at where we’re sitting now with those runners. We’ll see how we do in the Wood – maybe we’ll have one more.”
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Falconet banked $55,000 in victory and boosted her total purse earnings to $392,340 through a record of 9-4-4-0. She returned $9 for a $2 win ticket.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey sent Kathleen O. north from Gulfstream Park to make her second start of the year off a game runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Royal Delta on February 18. Castellano, who has piloted the daughter of Upstart in all of her eight starts, said a quicker tempo would have helped today.
“She never breaks out of the gate, but she can run and she finished up well,” said Castellano. “She tried really hard. Unfortunately, it was a small field and a slow pace. I don’t think it was the right set up for her. She comes from behind horses, so I wish we had a little more pace for a better set up. I’m disappointed but sometimes the way the race unfolds is a disadvantage to the horses coming from behind. She’s the type where, the more you ride, the more they give it to you. When they go slow, they aren’t going to stop.”
Live racing resumes Thursday at the Big A with an eight-race card. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.