SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Peter Brant’s Virginia Joy upset 1-5 favorite War Like Goddess with a frontrunning score in Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Flower Bowl, an 11-furlong inner turf test for older fillies and mares, at Saratoga Race Course.
The victory provided Brant  and trainer Chad Brown  with record extending scores in the Flower Bowl which offered a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 1 3/16-mile Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on November 5 at Keeneland.
Piloted by the Spa’s leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., who notched his fourth Flower Bowl score, the 5-year-old Solider Hollow mare set splits of 26.47 seconds, 53.29, 1:19.59 and 1:45.29 over the firm going under little pressure from the stalking Coastana as the Joel Rosario-piloted War Like Goddess saved ground in fifth position.
War Like Goddess advanced to the outside of Flanigan’s Cove through the final of three turns and took dead aim at the pacesetter, but could not reel in a runaway Virginia Joy, who notched the neck victory in a final time of 2:19.51. It was a further 1 1/4-lengths back to Coastana in third with Temple City Terror, Flanigan’s Cove and Marvelous Maude rounding out the order of finish. Capital Structure was scratched.
It was the German-bred bay’s first score since a gate-to-wire 14 1/4-length romp under Ortiz, Jr. in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay over yielding ground in May at Belmont Park.
“That was our plan. There wasn’t any speed in the race,” Brown said. “She had already won a nice race earlier in the season going wire-to-wire, so I told Irad, ‘why don’t you put her on the lead. Unless somebody goes crazy, just put her out there and just see how far she’ll go.’ She’s been effective before doing it, so it worked out.”
Brown, who won this event previously with Stacelita , Stephanie’s Kitten [2014-15], Lady Eli , Fourstar Crook  and Sistercharlie , said he knew the favored War Like Goddess would eventually come calling.
“I know there was a real bear behind her getting ready to come at her,” Brown said. “Fortunately for us she had some traffic trouble, the favorite, and she started her run a little later than I’m sure she wished she could have, and we were able to just beat her to the wire.”
Ortiz, Jr., who captured the Grade 3 Saranac earlier on the card aboard Annapolis, said the plan worked to perfection.
“It was a comfortable lead and that was the plan to make the lead and make it as slow as I can. It worked out good,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “She gave me a great kick from the quarter pole to the eighth pole. I worked on her, and she stayed on and that was the only reason she held on.”
Virginia Joy entered from a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Glens Falls on August 6 at the Spa, defeated 1 3/4-lengths by the victorious War Like Goddess and a half-length back of runner-up and returning rival Temple City Terror.
War Like Goddess, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, overcame slow-paced setups in her previous two starts this year to notch successful title defenses in the Grade 3 Bewitch in April at Keeneland ahead of her Glens Falls coup.
Mott lamented the soft splits.
“You would even hope for a 51 or something like that, but 53 and 1:19 for the three-quarters is just impossible to overcome,” Mott said. “When they went into the first turn I thought the horses were going well enough and then of course, as they came by the stands for the first time they were slowing it down, slowing it down, slowing it down. By that time, he [Rosario] was getting a ground saving trip. He was stuck down on the rail.
“I’m not sure if he had an opportunity to maybe let her pick up horses and I think there was maybe one point where he did, but he opted not to do it,” Mott continued. “She came flying. She’s a good horse. I don’t know how fast she came home, but she was rolling. Pace makes the race and in this case, it wasn’t meant for us.”
Brown said he will take time to consider a Breeders’ Cup try for Virginia Joy, who added to Brant’s past Flower Bowl winners of Just a Game , Scoot , River Memories  and Sistercharlie.
“You know, I’m not sure. She certainly showed a lot today,” Brown said. “She had it her way through to be realistic about it. We’ll see. The races get harder as you start to put the Grade 1s next to them. She’s a quality horse and probably deserves consideration after today.”
Bred in Germany by Gestut Auenquelle, Virginia Joy banked $330,000 in victory while improving her record to 14-6-2-2. She returned $11.80 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 12-race card featuring the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway in Race 11. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
By Keith McCalmont
Photo by Joe Labozzetta