The epitome of class and consistency, Lady’s Island has gone from the claiming ranks to a queen.
OLDSMAR, Fla.–A less than propitious start in Saturday’s six-furlong Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, may have been a cause for concern, but when you’re Lady’s Island, was there really ever a question?
The 6-year-old dark bay mare went down to her knees at the start of the race, but once again made things look easy, and romped to a 2-length victory under the confident handling of her regular rider Emisael Jaramillo.
Lady’s Island covered the first quarter in 21 3/5 seconds, overcoming the bobble at the race’s start.
“She went down on her knee at the start,” said Jaramillo, through an interpreter, his 18-year old son, who’s also named Emisael Jaramillo. “I had too much confidence in her…she went down on her knee, and went fast to the lead. I couldn’t hold her because she is so fast.”
Bred by Bailey Bolen, the graded stakes winning mare races in the colors of Paul and Duke Matties’ Matties Racing Stable LLC and Rich Averill’s Averill Racing LLC, and once again Saturday, she proved that she was more than up to the task. Lady’s Island was conditioned by Gerald Bennett, who’s the leading trainer at the current Tampa Bay Downs meet. It was Lady’s Island’s fourth victory at Tampa Bay Downs. The mare broke her maiden on April 22, 2017, at the Oldsmar-based oval, while being campaigned by Bolen and was conditioned at the time by Joseph Aboritanza.
“It was amazing with what happened at the gate, to get started all over again, she’s a super nice filly,” said Bennett. “I’m just happy to win after such a bad start. She loves this racetrack. She has such a high win percentage here. I’m just happy for Rich (Averill). He puts a lot of money in the game. We need these kinds of days.”
The Florida-bred daughter of Greatness has won four stakes races, and hasn’t finished worse than second in her last 11 starts. Lady’s Island’s resiliency and consistency have made her a favorite among fans, but her start Saturday was a bit nerve-wracking, said Averill, who had a private party at the track, with more than 70 people rooting for the mare that has stamped herself among the best sprinters in North America.
“She’s so fast, and such an awesome, awesome, awesome filly,” said Averill. “I’m just happy. I was confident, but I was nervous. I was confident enough to invite 70 people, but I was very nervous when that happened. There’s 100 ways to lose a race, and everything has to go right to win one, luckily she was that much the best. I’m just thrilled.”
Averill Racing LLC claimed Lady’s Island out of starter allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on June 22, 2018, during her 4-year-old campaign for $16,000.
“We have to go to Oaklawn at the end of March, for the (2019) H.B.P.A. Claiming Horse of the Year,” said Averill. “All the partners are going to go there…the Matties are more than good friends, they’re friends before partners. We were friends before (being) partners; and I’m just happy to enjoy that with them.”
Lady’s Island, who beat males in the Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Stakes, a race that had been moved to the main track, may have another date against the boys in early spring.
“The reason that I put her in Bennett’s name and ran her here, is so she could go over the track, so she could be here before the race, and then we’ll think about Florida Cup day against the boys, six furlongs,” said Averill. “She doesn’t owe us anything. We’ll see how she comes out of it. Obviously, that stumble is a little concerning. When they do that, it’s not natural.”
The mare’s imposing size and fierce determination makes her a formidable foe.
“She does it all on her own,” said Averill. “She’s just so fast. For as big as she is to have that much speed early on is not normal. Most horses that are really fast are compact, tight and small, like little rockets. You would think it would take a little while for her to get in stride, but she’s (claps his hands) gone.”
Lady’s Island was more than impressive this past summer at Saratoga, winning a six furlong allowance race by 13 ¼-lengths, a couple of ticks off the track record, placing the racing world on notice.
“At Saratoga, we knew we were in a good spot,” said Averill. “She was eligible for that condition. We asked for the race and they promised that it would go. It went. We brought a bunch of friends and family up there. That was kind of expected. That she won by that many, did I expect that? No. She’s just an awesome horse. She has such natural speed.”
However, it was the mare’s victory in the six furlong Grade 3 Sugar Swirl Stakes by 6 ¾-lengths at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 14, 2019 that resonates powerfully with Averill, bringing with it an emotive sense that has left an indelible imprint.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a race, and after the race I was shaking,” said Averill. “To watch her winning that race was worth more than what she earned.”
Lady’s Island made a huge impression on Averill, who saw the then filly’s initial bow on Feb. 26, 2017 at Tampa Bay Downs, and it was her speed that captured his imagination.
“After the race, I put her in my stable mail, and I said to myself, ‘You know, I have to keep an eye on her,” said Averill. “And then she ran back again, and ran in Delaware and came back here (to Tampa Bay Downs), and she won for $25,000, and I said, ‘I should have claimed her.’
“They brought her to Gulfstream and had her in for $16,000, and I told the trainer, ‘Georgina (Baxter), claim her, I don’t care what she looks like, claim her.’ They told me when we claimed her, ‘They said, ‘This is going to be a better claim than (world record holder and multiple stakes winner) Pay Any Price.’ And my words exactly were, ‘You’re smoking crack.’ And I think they were right (about Lady’s Island).”
By Ben Baugh