ELMONT, N.Y. – Three Chimneys Farm’s Royal Approval overtook pacesetter Union Gables in the final furlong and closed strongly to register a three-quarters of a length victory for her first stakes score in Sunday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Matron for juvenile fillies on Belmont Park’s inner turf.
Royal Approval broke sharp from post 7 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and tracked Union Gables as she led the seven-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.53 seconds and the half in 46.28 on the firm inner turf course. Out of the turn, the 1-2 favorite pressed on and bypassed Union Gables from the outside once inside the eighth pole. Magisterium, who was at the back at the pack a quarter-mile in, made a strong bid from the rail, and Union Gables continued to dig in, but Royal Approval completed the six-furlong sprint in 1:09.10.
“I rode her like the best horse in the race,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “With this one I got the perfect trip. She broke well, she put me right there and when I asked her to go, she was there.
“She [Union Gables] was game,” he added regarding the stubborn pace setter. “She was fighting and she tried to come back. My filly responded really well. She has a nice turn of foot.”
Trainer Wesley Ward said before the race that Royal Approval much preferred firm turf, which she thrived on in her previous start with a 6 1/4-length romp on September 9 at Kentucky Downs in a maiden special weight.
Following a second-place effort upon debut to stablemate Campanelle on May 31 going five furlongs on Gulfstream Park’s firm grass, Ward shipped Royal Approval to England to run at Royal Ascot in the Group 2 Queen Mary in June, where a wet surface proved problematic in a 17th place finish. Campanell, victorious in the Queen Mary, exited that effort to win the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville.
Under dryer conditions, Royal Approval has now won two in a row and improved to 2-for-2 since Ward took the blinkers off.
“I try to take [the blinkers] off at the end of the year,” said Ward, who won the 2017 Matron with Happy Like a Fool. “At the beginning of the year, I just want to keep them focused and looking straight ahead and not looking at whatever is beside them. As we get to the fall, they get to different tracks and so many different countries, that it helps to stretch their speed when you take the blinkers off.
“When I took the blinkers off her last time, she ran very well and if you analyze the race at Kentucky Downs, it almost looked like you had to get worried and then the rider went to the stick and she opened up five or six lengths,” he continued. “Irad said that he was just riding, and she was just kind of right there, but when he hit her, she took off. I think this filly may stretch out.”
Royal Approval returned $3.10 for winning the 113th edition of the Matron. Ward said the effort gave him confidence to pursue a spot in the Breeders’ Cup next month at Keeneland, with either the Grade 1, $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint against males going 5 ½ furlongs or the Grade 1, $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf going one mile in play and a possible rematch with Campanell, who is targeting that race.
“We definitely will go to the Breeders’ Cup with her. I’ll sit down with [Three Chimneys Farm vice chairman] Doug Cauthen and [chairman] Mr. [Gonçalo Borges] Torrealba and see just which direction they want to go,” Ward said. “Just after talking to Irad, the mile [Juvenile Fillies Turf] might be the better option for her, but again, we’ll sit down and see how she is. As we get a little closer, we’ll have to really watch the weather, as this filly doesn’t handle the soft turf. At Keeneland in the fall, sometimes you’ll get that.”
Union Gables, conditioned by Todd Pletcher, held off Magisterium by three-quarters of a length for second.
“She was pretty comfortable, she broke pretty well,” said Union Gables’ jockey Luis Saez. “She’s going to be all right next time. She fought until the end, the winner was just too tough. She’s going to be OK.”
Amalfi Princess, Fabricate and Rossa Veloce completed the order of finish. Niente was pulled up in the stretch run and vanned off.
Bravo Regina was scratched.
Originally contested on dirt, the Matron – along with its male counterpart the Grade 3, $100,000 Futurity – was moved to the grass in 2018 upon introduction of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint to give 2-year-old turf sprinting fillies an opportunity to garner black type. The historic race has seen some of racing’s finest fillies notch a victory early on in their storied careers including Maskette (1908), Top Flight (1938), Busher (1944), Bed o’ Roses (1949), Cicada (1961), Numbered Account (1971) and La Prevoyante (1972).
2020 Matron Replay
Live racing resumes with a special nine-race Monday holiday card at Belmont with a first post of 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
By Brian Bohl/NYRA Press Office
Photo: Royal Approval. Credit: Susie Raisher