Richard DePass pulled the golf cart to a stop on the Saratogabackstretch early Thursday morning. Passenger Rajiv Maragh peered tothe right, spotted Godolphin’s Henry Spiller and shouted exuberantly.
“Henry, we’ve got a big weekend coming up my friend. A big, big weekend.”
The prophecy came true Saturday afternoon when Maragh – with an assist from agent DePass – guided Godolphin’s Music Note to an upset win over all-star fillies Indian Blessing (John Velazquez) and Informed Decision (Julien Leparoux) in the Grade I , $294,000 Ballerina Stakes at 7 furlongs.
Music Note broke running from her rail draw and settled into stride just off the 23.13 quarter-mile split that champion sprinter and $2.8 million earner Indian Blessing put up on the board. Informed Decision, a winner of five consecutive at 7 furlongs, maintained her position on the inside and led a tight pack filled out by Tar Heel Mom, Music Note and P.S.U. Grad.
Maragh moved Music Note through on the rail and she poked a head in front of Indian Blessing as the half-mile of 45.76 was announced. Informed Decision struggled to keep up between the top pair and backed out of it as the leaders approached the far turn. Music Note and Indian Blessing waged their battle to the top of the stretch when Music Note took charge. She barreled off the turn with a short lead, widened in midstretch and poured it on late to win by 5 1/4 lengths and become racing’s newest millionaire.
Music Note entered with five wins from nine career starts, but was united with Maragh for the first time in the Ballerina. He got a trial run in a 5-furlong breeze over the main track Aug. 16 and knew he’d be riding a live runner.
“It was my first time on her in the afternoon but I had been on her once in the morning and she really fascinated me. She has a beautiful way of moving, so when I got off her I was really encouraged,” Maragh said. “She gave me a lot of hope and confidence that she would run a big race. She loved the mud out there on the track. Warming up she wanted to play in it, she was very happy, so I knew she would run a big race.”
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was on hand to saddle the Godolphin runners Saturday and left impressed with horse and rider.
“(Rajiv) gave her a brilliant ride and she handled the mud really well,” bin Suroor said. “She’s a tough filly that always tries hard. She’s healthy and back in the same form she was last year.”
Which was far from how she entered the race.
Music Note took her spot in the starting gate looking to regain her stature among the best of the division. The 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy won a trio of Grade I races going long at Belmont Park last year and was a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly. But her lone start in 2009 was a major disappointment, a fifth, beaten 10 1/4 lengths as part of a 1-5 entry in the Grade I Phipps Handicap at Belmont June 13.
Instead of forging on, Godolphin opted to freshen Music Note, reassess and aim toward the second half of the season. The Ballerina went on the big board with today’s Grade I Personal Ensign, until it was determined that 7 furlongs was a better jumping off point than a mile and a quarter. Music Note displayed a powerful closing run in her two-turn races, so Maragh was pleasantly surprised when he was just off the early leaders in the Ballerina.
“It worked out good that she didn’t get outsprinted too much early. I didn’t know how much speed she had, so cutting back to 7 furlongs and facing those two top horses I didn’t know if we would be 8 or 10 lengths out of it. They can go pretty quick going seven-eighths and I wasn’t sure how she would respond,” Maragh said. “But just a few strides out of the gate there I was with those horses and the fact that she was comfortable and I didn’t have to rush her to get there was delightful. We hit the backside and she was still close and it didn’t even feel like I was close to being to the bottom of her.”
The Jamaican-born Maragh, 24, has come a long way since riding his first winner in the United States at Tampa Bay Downs in 2004. He sits firmly in the top five in wins at Saratoga and was the second leading rider in New York in 2008. Rides like Music Note (his seventh stakes win of the meet) only help him realize how far he’s climbed the ladder.
“It’s amazing that I can get on a filly like this for the Godolphin operation,” Maragh said. “For such a young and up-and-coming rider like myself it really gives me a big boost to know that I’m riding some of these top-class horses that they have in their barn. They are the pinnacle of the sport and have been very good to me.”
Saturday, the jockey returned the favor.