Caravel still the boss after latest stakes score

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Six days after winning the $100,000 The Very One Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Black-Eyed Susan Day, Caravel watches over the shedrow at Lizzie Merryman’s Fair Hill Training Center barn.

Dolly, a barn-supervising Labrador, chases a black and white cat past the 4-year-old gray filly’s stall. Caravel coolly watches over the action.

“She’s pretty, but she’s not nice,” warns exercise rider Maddie Rowland, strolling by Caravel’s stall on a Merryman trainee cooling out.

At 8 a.m., nothing about the filly’s disposition would suggest ill-tempered tendencies. She’s more than happy receiving attention from passers-by, hanging her head into the shedrow waiting patiently for her morning assignment.

At this stage of the morning, the daughter of Mizzen Mast has spent an hour in the field, the first horse out of the barn every day, so as not to make her upset. Merryman says this is critical to keeping things in order at the barn.

Twenty minutes later the tack goes on, and Caravel’s aforementioned attitude kicks into gear.

She grabs a white saddle towel from her stall door, calmly holding it between her teeth while Merryman adjusts the saddle on her back. Caravel, 2020’s Pennsylvania-bred Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly, senses it’s almost go-time and seeks out targets to nip and settles on a green Jolly Ball tied on the door to her left.

At 8:30, Caravel and McClane Hendriks, Merryman’s son, head for Fair Hill’s main track, led by the watchful eye of owner, breeder and trainer.

“When she wants grass, she gets grass,” says Merryman, guiding the filly to her left off the horse path. Merryman’s instructions on how to treat her filly were far more extensive than anything oval-related for the gallop that followed.

After all, Caravel handled the track like a professional last week, waiting her turn on the rail and finding her lane on the turf to win by a nose under Florent Geroux.

“She just gave me all the confidence in the world the week before the race,” Merryman says.

Caravel’s six races prior to last Friday’s The Very One Stakes took place amid pandemic conditions, with little to no commotion at the track for every start. Black-Eyed Susan Day proved to be uncharted territory, but the filly handled the setting.

Her trainer cites a well-placed television.

Merryman says Caravel has always found screens to be worth her attention, dating back to her two stays in the Presque Isle Downs stakes barn last year.

“She would sit there, when the races started, and watch TV all night,” Merryman says.

Pimlico’s sheltered paddock usually allows fans to see horses being tacked through windows. The windows were blocked off this year, and television monitors were put up to provide a view for the paddock patrons.

“She was dancing around going in the paddock, which isn’t usually like her. She’s usually completely quiet,” Merryman says, noting that Caravel’s No. 3 stall provided a TV screen in her line of sight. “She turned in her saddling stall and watched the TV.”

Another key to the filly’s success is her regular exercise rider Damian Towler, a Fair Hill-based owner and trainer who keeps two horses at the end of Merryman’s barn. One of Towler’s horses is Winston Pegg, a South Carolina-bred gelding who won a maiden race over Pimlico’s turf course May 21.

“I rode her when she was 2, and I thought she was fast then.” Towler says. “She’s a bit more settled in her works now.”