Frontrunning Farrell

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Channing Hill walked from the Saratoga Race Course winner’s circle to the jockeys’ room after a victory aboard Farrell in Sunday’s Grade 3 Shuvee Stakes. It had been a while since the 30-year-old rider made the walk in that lane outlined in white and red paint. The jockey who started his career on the NYRA circuit has been riding in the Midwest in recent years and won for the first time Sunday at Saratoga since 2011.

Quite a walk it was. Hill greeted all sorts of patrons; old fans, young fans, members of the starting gate crew, security guards and even trainers. A security guard and the jockey he was escorting reminisced about a day in 2008 at Belmont Park, a young fan walked up to Hill to tell him that his mother’s maiden name was Farrell and retired trainer Carl Domino made sure to congratulate the jockey. That walk had to be just as enjoyable for the rider as crossing the finish line.

Unlike the Shuvee, Hill didn’t have to worry about who was right behind him. There were multiple points in the stretch run where it looked like Farrell would be caught.

The filly’s chances of taking the Shuvee field gate-to-wire improved greatly when the speedy Frost Wise was scratched a few minutes before post. From her outside slot, Farrell broke well and Hill made sure to cross over and clear the five runners to his inside. Through a :24.35 first quarter, Farrell bounded along with her ears up on an uncontested 2-length lead.

“She’s gotten much better at relaxing,” Hill said. “Wayne (Catalano) and Juan her groom have done a tremendous job. Just a little maturity. She’s really good now. Down the backside, she puts her ears up and settles nicely. I don’t even really care what the time is as long as she’s taking a deep breath for me down the backside.”

She took a few deep breaths. Farrell kept her competition 2 lengths away for the entire backstretch run. When the field started to bend for home, Hill still had a hold of his mount while John Velazquez started to get busy in second aboard 9-10 favorite Wow Cat. That rival and Ivy Bell ranged up to Farrell’s flank at the top of the stretch and the chances of a close finish increased.

“I knew I had a little horse left,” Hill said. “She can be a little particular about things, that’s why you see her lay out sometimes, but that’s just her.”

Ivy Bell tried to make her rally, but failed to keep going forward. Right before the sixteenth pole, it looked like Wow Cat was finally going to get by, but she failed to live up to the hype. Verve’s Tale started to gain momentum right after that the sixteenth pole, and she failed to stay straight.

Farrell did drift, but not enough to cause an inquiry. She defeated Wow Cat by a neck and it was a head back to late-closing Verve’s Tale in third. Ivy Bell failed to stay on late finishing fourth beaten 2 lengths.

Hill is the only jockey Farrell has felt on her back in her 17-race career. Catalano, Hill’s trainer and father-in-law, made sure to get the jockey on the filly before her career even started.

“I got on her a couple times at Arlington before she made her first start,” said the rider who won the Grade 1 Forego aboard First Defence in 2008. “Shoot, before I even got on her Wayne was high on her. He had me come to Chicago and just breeze her.”

Farrell kicked off her 4-year-old year with a win the Pippin Stakes. She had been winless in six starts since but came into Saratoga with back-to-back runner-up finishes at Churchill Downs, first in the Grade 1 La Troienne and last time out in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis.

“Bob and Anette Cummings, you talk about the best owners in the game,” Hill said of Farrell’s owners and breeders who race the filly in their Coffeepot Stables colors. “They stuck with me. Most of the time a guy like myself gets limited opportunities, especially on a filly like this.”

Hill recalled his fondest Saratoga memories.

“Anything with Mike Hushion,” he said. “This is the place I really grew up, from a kid to an adult. You win races here, you’re doing it among the best in the world.”