SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Marylou Whitney Stables’ Pretty Birdie rocketed to a lead that she never relinquished, fending off 6-5 favorite Mainstay’s stretch-drive challenge to win the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for juvenile fillies by two lengths on Thursday, Opening Day, at Saratoga Race Course.
The 103rd edition of the six-furlong Schuylerville fittingly saw the ownership group of the late Saratoga icon and philanthropist capture a graded stakes during the lid-lifter of the 40-day meet. To accomplish the feat, Pretty Birdie wasted no time breaking sharply from the inside post under Luis Saez, leading the seven-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.29 seconds, a half in 45.82 and three-quarters in 58.40 on the fast main track.
Mainstay, who broke from post 2 under Frankie Pennington and tracked in second position in every point of call, made a late bid out of the turn, but Saez kept his charge to task, completing the course in a 1:12.32 final time.
“This is where she felt the most alive,” said owner John Hendrickson, who was married to Whitney until her passing in July 2019. “This is the way she is alive and she has a win on opening day. It’s pretty special. This is a dream come true for me and Marylou. Things getting back to normal and winning on Opening Day, she’s throwing a party. She said ‘I want to race, get back to work.’
“It means so much,” Hendrickson added. “The smiling faces and having Saratoga back the way it should be and having a win. It’s very special.”
Pretty Birdie’s gate-to-wire score was the second career graded stakes win for trainer Norm Casse and his first in New York. The Kentucky homebred, a daughter of Bird Song, improved to 2-for-2 following her debut win in June at Churchill Downs.
“I feel like she was a little more green today. She didn’t want to switch leads down the lane,” Casse said. “I was a little bit concerned about that as she was finishing, but I think that was just her seeing a new place. This was the first time she had even come over here. I kept her on the Oklahoma [training track] side the entire week she’s been here.”
Off at 5-2, Pretty Birdie returned $7.60 on a $2 win wager. Casse said the next target for her is the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway on September 5 at Saratoga.
“I think she was just gawking around and maybe even waiting on the other horse,” Casse said. “Those are things we’ll fix before we run her in the Spinaway next.”
Saez won his second career Schuylerville, joining Off the Tracks in 2015.
“She’s very fast,” said Saez, who finished the day with three wins. “I could feel it. She was on her toes. She broke from there pretty quick and we controlled the pace. When we came to the top of the stretch, she was running. I was pretty happy with her.
“She was a little tired [late in the lane] but she was go,” he added. “Nice filly.”
Mainstay, a half-sister to reigning 2-year-old champion filly Vequist trained by Butch Reid, Jr. was a 7 3/4-length first-out winner in June at Monmouth Park. Making her Saratoga bow, the Astern filly finished 5 1/4 lengths clear of Saucy Lady T for second.
“I think she ran well,” Reid, Jr. said. “It was a quality horse that beat her. My jockey was a little upset that she wasn’t standing quite right in the gate and they snapped it before she was really ready. She had one leg that was underneath the next stall. I think maybe if she breaks a little better, who knows, but she didn’t get away from the gate clean.”
Velvet Sister, Cartel Queen, Eagle Express and Queen Camilla completed the order of finish. Pipeline Girl and Happy Soul, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, scratched.
2021 Schuylerville Replay
Live racing resumes Friday with a 10-race card highlighted by the Grade 3, $150,000 Forbidden Apple for 4-year-olds and up going one mile on the inner turf in Race 9 at 5:39 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:05 p.m.
By Brian Bohl/NYRA Press Office
Photo: Pretty Birdie (Susie Raisher)