Clearsky Farm’s Barry Robinette called trainer Leah Gyarmati the other day with simple instructions for Wonder Gal, who runs in Saturday’s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park. “Win by 10 again so we can keep her running.”
Robinette was kidding, but Gyarmati and Wonder Gal are perfect so far – a lopsided win in the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct last month in their first start for Clearview Stable, the racing division of the Cleary family’s Clearsky. The Lexington, Ky., farm is best known as the breeder of champion Arrogate and other stars Mohaymen, Firing Line, Lord Nelson, Abel Tasman and New Year’s Day. The farm bought Wonder Gal, a multiple stakes winner of more than $800,000, in early January mainly as a broodmare prospect.
Any racing success is a bonus, and Wonder Gal is making good on her part of the deal. She won the Ladies by 13 1/2 lengths, and earned one more start – at least – in Saturday’s Fritchie. She’s the 9-2 third choice behind fellow New York-based mares By The Moon and High Ridge Road in a field of nine.
After the Ladies, Robinette and Bernard Cleary asked Gyarmati about another target. The trainer brought up the Fritchie, which offers a chance for Wonder Gal to win a graded stakes (she’s placed in four Grade 1 stakes, a Grade 2 and a Grade 3) and pass the $1 million mark in career earnings.
“The choices this time of year are Oaklawn and Gulfstream for two-turn races and a little bit of money,” Gyarmati said. “This is a lotta bit of money, it’s close, it’s graded, it could put her over a million. But it’s back to a one-turn race and more of a sprint.”
Wonder Gal cuts back to 7 furlongs after winning the Ladies (1 mile and 70 yards) and just missing when third in the 1-mile Go For Wand. Gyarmati likes the idea from post nine.
“Beeding-wise, this is the right race to run in and, ultimately, that’s why they bought her,” Gyarmati said. “She drew the perfect post position even though I think she’s a little better at two turns now. I wouldn’t want to be down inside getting the pressure. She can let everybody fight it out inside of her and hopefully come win it – I have it all mapped out in my head anyway.”
In addition to the Ladies score, Wonder Gal has won at 6 furlongs, 6 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles. Distance isn’t really the question, Wonder Gal herself makes the most difference.
“The whole thing is how she’s training in the morning,” Gyarmati said. “Going into that last race, she was really training well, doing as well as she can do. You could just tell. When she’s doing those bullet works without you asking her to, she’s right and can run her best race. If you’re making her do those bullet works, she’s not going to run as well.”
Wonder Gal worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.77 and blew out 3 furlongs in :38.05 before the Ladies. Since then, she’s fired another bullet 3 furlongs (:37.77) Jan. 31 and added half-mile moves in :49 and change Feb. 6 and 12. She makes her second start in the Fritchie, after finishing fifth last year.
“It was a strange race,” said Gyarmati. “She ran and sucked back, didn’t make a fool of herself but didn’t run great either. But she wasn’t doing nearly as well as she is now. Right now, she’s training super. I feel good about her.”
Bred in New York by Apache Farm, Wonder Gal has been with Gyarmati for the better part of three years. Treadway spent $210,000 to buy the daughter of Tiz Wonderful at the OBS March sale in 2014. She won her debut at Saratoga that summer, finished third in the Grade 2 Adirondack, second in the Grade 1 Frizette and third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Her 3-year-old season included a single win, in the Empire Distaff, but two Grade 1 placings. Last year, she returned from a layoff (throat infection) to win a Saratoga allowance at the end of the meet before finishing off the board in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She heads to the Fritchie off back-to-back strong efforts for Kendrick Carmouche, who takes the return call.
Gyarmati hopes for at least one more, though she knows By The Moon (post three) and High Ridge Road (one) have a slight edge form-wise. The former won the 2014 Frizette, over Wonder Gal, and has neared $940,440 for breeder Samantha Siegel and trainer Michelle Nevin. High Ridge Road has won three of her five starts since moving to Linda Rice’s barn from Chad Brown, including a half-length win over By The Moon in the Thirty Eight Go Go at Laurel Dec. 31.
“Those two are definitely a little notch ahead of her speed-number wise, but a very small notch,” the trainer said. “They’re inside us, which doesn’t work in their favor. My filly’s not necessarily speed – she’s close, she’s speed, she’s laid off it, it doesn’t matter that much. The fact that we’ve got that post position can give us a little bit of an option in terms of what we do in relation to everyone else.”
Clearsky took notice of the mare because of her race record, moved her up a peg because of her sire and put her on the “buy” list after seeing her.
“Her race record caught our eye first,” said Robinette. “We liked the Tiz Wonderful because My Happy Face is throwing good foals. I went up and took a look at (Wonder Gal) physically and she’s put together right. It means a lot to have the looks, too. She’s a young mare that’s been right there in the better races and maybe for some reason or another just came up a little short. (Such mares) have plenty of residual value as broodmares and maybe you can get them at a little bit of a discount.”
Of course, Clearsky wouldn’t mind putting off that broodmare career a bit longer.
“It would be hard to bring her home if she does that again,” Robinette said of repeating the Ladies romp. “We’ll take it day by day and see how she does. Leah’s done a good job with her and we’re happy to have her.”
NOTES: Saturday’s ninth race, the Fritchie is one of six stakes on the card. The afternoon starts at 12:30 p.m. with the first stakes going as the fifth race at 2:30. The day also includes the Maryland Racing Media, Wide Country, Miracle Wood, John B. Campbell and Grade 3 General George.