The Breeders’ Cup has always been about dreams. Big dreams – like John Gaines coming up with the concept of the one-day (now two) championship to sort out the best of the best. Little dreams, well, maybe there are no little dreams when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup.
Kevin Attard hoped his notion was correct that Starship Jubilee wanted to run longer when he claimed for $16,000 a couple years back at Gulfstream Park. He couldn’t have dreamt the now 7-year-old mare would go from claimer to stakes winner to Grade 1 winner – her latest against males in one of Woodbine’s signature events – to Breeders’ Cup starter. She’ll do that when she takes on an extremely deep renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
How deep? Consider that the U.S. contingent includes 2018 Filly and Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie and her younger sister My Sister Nat, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Rushing Fall, Grade 1 winner Civil Union, Mean Mary and Harvey’s Lil Goil.
Claim to Fame. Starship Jubilee continues climb from claimer to Grade 1 winner. Written for July 25 Saratoga Special by Sean Clancy.
Tino and Kevin Attard were looking for a horse, one who could pay her way in Florida, maybe one the father/son team could take back to Woodbine in the spring. The Attards had lost a few shakes during the Gulfstream Park winter meet when they wrote out another claim slip and dropped it in the box.
They won the shake that day. And hit the lottery.
Making her first start since Jorge Navarro claimed her for $16,000, Starship Jubilee rallied to finish second for the same price. It was the last time she ran for a price.
“At Gulfstream you can shake a lot of times before you get one, we happened to lose a few shakes and won a shake for her,” Kevin Attard said. “She looked like on paper she wanted to stretch out a little bit, she had been primarily sprinting, she had a couple of races at 7 ½. She seemed like she would appreciate going a little further because she was always closing in her races. She just looked like a handy horse.
The Florida-bred daughter of Indy Wind won a state-bred first-level allowance in her next start, an open starter in her next and an open first-level allowance in her next for owner/trainer/father Tino Attard.
The Attards were out. And just getting started.
“She’s exceeded all expectations and dreams anyways, right,” Kevin Attard said. “She just got on a good roll and developed into the horse she is today.”
With Kevin Attard as trainer, Starship Jubilee ventured to Woodbine in May, 2017, swiping the Grade 2 Nassau and the Grade 2 Dance Smartly, part of a five-race win streak that season for co-owners Attard and Soli Mehta. In 2018, she won the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf and the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine as part of a $269,707 season. Attard and Mehta, through Brookdale Sales, offered their star at Keeneland November Sale but she failed to sell for $425,000. Bonnie Baskin’s Blue Heaven Farm bought the bay mare privately and decided to keep the cards on the table. She won three of seven, including another Sunshine Millions, another Canadian and the best one yet, the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine in 2019. She finished last season with a second in the Grade 3 Cardinal at Churchill Downs. A 6-year-old mare, who had long since paid for herself, now owned by commercial breeders, in November, the breeding shed was certainly an option.
“Sure, definitely, we considered it,” Attard said. “We thought we’d give her a shot in the Sunshine Millions, see how she fared and go from there. She won that race pretty easy. We said we’ll give her another shot and if she seems to enjoy what she’s doing and she’s competitive, we’ll think about continuing to race her. Sure enough, she comes back and wins the Suwanee River. Then she wins the Hillsborough…”
If you’re counting that’s 3-for-3 in 2020. The breeding shed’s doors stayed closed.
“She seems better than ever. As long as she’s healthy and happy, then we’ll continue to race her this year and take it from there,” Attard said. “The main thing is she has been sound and healthy, there hasn’t been an issue where you’re contemplating, ‘Can we get one more out of her?’ ”
So far, they’ve gotten 14 wins (10 stakes) out of the overachieving mare.
“She turned out to be a very special horse, she’s been a joy to have,” Attard said. “She’s not a very big horse, that helps, right. She’s pretty feisty, has a lot of attitude towards here, you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled when she’s on the shed walking around, getting groomed or bathed. She’s headstrong galloping, she makes you earn your money that’s for sure.
It’s worth it.
Starship Jubilee returns to Saratoga as second-choice in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. Today’s feature is carded as the third race, post time at 2:18. Last year, Starship Jubilee finished third in the Ballston Spa, beaten a half-length by Significant Form and Indian Blessing.
“She was a little rank. It took her a little time to settle into position, she can be that way, she closed hard and wasn’t beaten far. It was a real good outing for her, hopefully we can be just a little bit better this time. Arguably, off her first three races this year, you could say she’s better than ever.”
After her third win, Starship Jubilee freshened at Niall Brennan Stable in Ocala, posting a 3-furlong breeze May 19 before heading back to Woodbine where she’s breezed eight times in preparation for today’s stakes.
“I thought it took her a little bit of time to come around in the morning, in her works, but her last three works have been pretty sharp, she seems ready to get going now,” Attard said.
The 44-year-old trainer has won 488 races in his career that began in 2001. He’s 0-for-2 at Saratoga.
“It would be special for sure. To win any kind of race at Saratoga would be nice, a feather in your cap, obviously to win a graded race there would be that much sweeter. I was brought up in this game, I’ve enjoyed from a young boy, my dad’s family is heavily involved, I have a son who loves it. It’s in our blood, just runs through our veins,” Attard said. “It’s definitely been a great ride with her. I’ve claimed a couple of nice horses, Calgary Cat and Melmich, but when you claim one for 16 and she becomes a Grade 1 winner, she’s obviously the best claim I’ve made.”
Return Call. Starship Jubilee upsets Sistercharlie in Grade 2. Written for July 29 Saratoga Special by Sean Clancy.
The Special offered Kevin Attard a good-will, last-line goodbye Friday afternoon, the day before Attard’s Starship Jubilee took on four rivals in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga.
“Hopefully we’ll be calling you after the race.”
“Would love that,” the Canadian-based trainer said.
We called him after the race.
Sent off second choice, Starship Jubilee staved off third choice Call Me Love and brushed off former champion Sistercharlie to win her fourth stakes in a row.
“I like the post-race interviews better,” Attard said, two days after the neck victory.
Starship Jubilee lurched outward at the break, jostling Javier Castellano’s right foot and stirrup and knocking the Hall of Fame jockey to the left for a couple of strides. Light-mouthed when it’s going smoothly, the 7-year-old mare tossed her head for about 10 strides as Castellano tempered her off a strong pace set by Sistercharlie’s stablemate North Broadway. Mission accomplished, Starship Jubilee obliged and settled into the sweet spot, between the second choice and favorite as the pacesetter opened up a moot 10 lengths through a quarter mile in :24.29 and a half in :48.18. Midway on the turn, Castellano angled Starship Jubilee past Call Me Love, guaranteeing a jump on the looming Sistercharlie. The slingshot worked as Starship Jubilee swung to the lead, opening a short but decisive lead and held tough for a neck victory over Call Me Love. Making her first start since the Breeders’ Cup in November, Sistercharlie dusted off the rust with a solid effort, 1 ¼ lengths behind Call Me Love after 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.76.
Owned by Blue Heaven Farm, Starship Jubilee improved her career mark to 18-for-36 for $1.6 million. The Florida-bred daughter of Indy Wind is 4-for-4 this year and hasn’t finished worse than fourth since June, 2018.
Attard, whose family claimed Starship Jubilee for $16,000 in 2017, watched from the Woodbine paddock as he got ready to saddle Pastel Emily for the fourth.
“Just before I threw the tack up, there were a couple of TVs with Saratoga on them, they were ready to load in the gate and I said to the groom, ‘Hey, give me another turn,’ ” Attard said.
It was worth the turn.
“It was a real cool experience, watching her, watching the race unfold,” Attard said. “Midway around the turn, I kind of had a feeling we had a shot to beat Sistercharlie, then reality kind of sets in, you just root on your filly, the Clement filly didn’t lay down, kept fighting back. My voice is still a little hoarse. I’m proud of her, she ran a great race.”
Starship Jubilee, a Grade 1 stakes winner last year, secured her fourth stakes win (third graded stakes win) this year. She won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf for the third consecutive time Jan. 18. Three weeks later, she secured the Grade 3 Suwanee River. A month after that, she clicked off the Grade 2 Hillsborough. Freshened for the summer, she returned in the Ballston Spa, notching Attard’s first win at Saratoga.
“Definitely one of the highlights of my career,” Attard said. “It would have been nice to be there to experience it, but I’m satisfied saying I won a Grade 2 at Saratoga.”
By Sunday morning, Starship Jubilee was home at Woodbine.
“I went right up to her, gave her a good pat, gave her some carrots and thanked her for a great job,” Attard said.
A return trip for the Diana Aug. 23 could be on the docket.
“It’s a strong possibility, a mile and an eighth is a great distance for my horse. She seems to really like that course, a win and a third,” Attard said. “The timing of the Diana works out, we also have a race at Woodbine, the Dance Smartly, that’s a possibility, it’s a week sooner than the Diana but she’s run well off of a three-week race as well. We’ll see how she comes out of this, see how she trains.”
Starship Jubilee continues to question the standard of retiring mares after their 5-year-old season. She’s earned $1,042,209 after going through the Keeneland November Sale in 2018. She failed to sell for $425,000 and was bought privately by Blue Heaven.
“I haven’t had the privilege to have the experience to be around that many great horses like her. First and foremost, it comes from her being a sound horse, that’s a big thing. Everybody kept telling me to sell her at 5 because that’s her peak, they don’t want mares older than that. Whether it’s just a stigma and people don’t try to run them any longer…” Attard said. “Look at Sistercharlie, a lot was made about her making her 6-year-old debut, right? The owners elected to say, ‘Hey, you know what, that’s a great horse, she’s healthy, why not run her for another year?’ Maybe people pull the trigger a little too soon and put them in their breeding shed. With her, I can just tell you, she’s sound, she obviously enjoys what she does, she hasn’t lost that competitive edge, she loves being a racehorse. Why not?”
Sister Act. French-bred mare My Sister Nat wins first stakes in U.S. with late run. Written for Aug. 12 Saratoga Special by Paul Halloran.
If this year’s Waya Stakes at Saratoga Race Course were to be made into a TV show, you could call it “Family Ties.”
The winning mare, My Sister Nat, is a half-sister to Sistercharlie, who won the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and finished third last year. Both are owned by Peter Brant, who, in his first go-around as an owner, campaigned Hall of Famer Waya.
“This is a race we’ve been targeting since (Peter) got back in the game,” winning trainer Chad Brown said. “She just went into the Hall of Fame last year, the great Waya. It was really great to win this.”
Brant and George Strawbridge Jr. bought the French-bred Waya prior to her 5-year-old campaign, in which she won the 1979 Eclipse Award for Champion Older Mare. The prior year, she had set the world record for fastest 1 1/8-mile time on turf (1:45 2/5) in winning the Diana for David Whiteley. Waya finished her career with 14 wins in 29 starts and captured three Grade 1 stakes.
My Sister Nat was bred in France by Ecurie des Monceaux. She ran six times for trainer Francis-Henri Graffard before Brant bought her in 2018 and put her in the care of Brown. Prior to Saturday, she had run five times in the U.S. without visiting the winner’s circle, though she was on the board five times.
“We’ve been watching her train the last couple of weeks and saw how well she looked,” Brown said. “She seems to be set up for her best year yet.”
If that comes to pass, the connections may look back on the Grade 3 Waya as the breakthrough race.
Jose Ortiz placed her closer to the pace than usual in the 1½-mile marathon, in last but only 5 lengths off the pace as the four mares and two fillies came by the stands the first time. Ortiz kept My Sister Nat on the hedge up the backstretch, moving up one spot heading into the far turn.
“Jose came to the paddock with a really good plan,” Brown said. “He stayed with the pack and didn’t let her fall too far back. Jose deserves a lot of credit.”
Ortiz took My Sister Nat – like Sistercharlie, out of the Galileo mare Starlet’s Sister – off the rail entering the stretch and she outfinished Mrs. Sippy and Fools Gold, also a Brown trainee, who led into the stretch, to win by a neck.
“Chad always tells me in three-turn races to save ground on the first two turns and on the third turn do whatever you want,” Ortiz said. “She’s a tiny filly, but she’s got a lot of heart.”
The Waya marked the first time My Sister Nat went 12 furlongs. As far as Brown is concerned, the farther the better.
“This was her second three-turn race and we saw what she can do,” Brown said. “We’re going to try to keep her in races like this.”
Winning them over. Mean Mary streaks into Diana off four straight wins. Written for Aug. 22 Saratoga Special by Joe Clancy.
A couple years ago, Elvin Caraballo worked in Graham Motion’s 2-year-old barn at Fair Hill Training Center and watched exercise riders, grooms – heck, everybody – wrestle with a dark bay filly. She’d lean against the barn wall and freeze, with a rider on her back. When people on the ground tried to help, she’d lunge in full attack mode. If the people got mad, she got madder.
Her name – Mean Mary – didn’t help.
“I do not want to get on that filly,” Caraballo told himself.
Now he gets on her every day, the regular rider for a multiple graded stakes winner and contender in Sunday’s Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga Race Course. Undefeated in three starts this year, Alex Campbell Jr.’s homebred gets the sternest test of her short career against five rivals including champion and two-time Diana winner Sistercharlie, 18-time winner Starship Jubilee, Grade 1 winner Rushing Fall, Italian Group 2 winner Call Me Love and Grade 2 winner Secret Message. First run in 1939, the Diana is the eighth of nine races with a 5:18 p.m. post time.
If she sticks to the theme of her first three starts this year, Mean Mary might be in front at 5:18:03. The daughter of Scat Daddy doesn’t necessarily break in front, but she gets there soon enough and has thus far made it stand up through every point of call – winning the Grade 3 La Prevoyante by 5 lengths in January and the Grade 3 Orchid in March by a length at Gulfstream Park and doing it again by 5 1/4 in the Grade 2 New York at Belmont Park in June.
The three wins came at ever-decreasing distances – 1 1/2 miles, 1 3/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles – and she shortens up again in the 1 1/8-mile Diana. Motion had longer options, the Waya Aug. 8, Glens Falls Sept. 5 or even Sword Dancer against males Aug. 29, but picked the Diana with a look to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Keeneland.
“Mr. Campbell is from Lexington, it would mean a lot to him to have a runner,” Motion said. “She seems like she belongs there, but the race is a mile-and-three-sixteenths. Normally it’s a mile-and-a-quarter which would suit her better. The Diana just makes sense to try and find out if she can compete at that level at the shorter distance. We have to find that out.”
Motion didn’t peg Mean Mary as a marathoner from the outset, and only chose the La Prevoyante because there weren’t many other options. She went to the front, pricked her ears, let Luis Saez sit against her with a long hold and galloped the field into the ground. She went faster early in the Orchid, nearly wiped out a goose on the clubhouse turn, and ruled again. At Belmont in June, she broke from the outside, powered to the front, pushed those ears forward and was never headed.
“That’s just her,” Motion said of the running style. “She doesn’t have to be on the lead. Going those longer distances, she ends up on the lead because there’s no pace. She just gallops, it’s just galloping for her. She gets out there and forgets there’s anyone else there. I think she enjoys it.”
She didn’t enjoy her early days in the barn. She didn’t like people. They weren’t so fond of her. She wasted energy, frustrated riders, even made the blacksmith worry. “I don’t like it when they give them names like Mean This or Mean That,” said Mark Pino.
Though she arrived with the name, she earned it at Fair Hill. And then things started to change, with some help from a mentor. The Motion team turned her out with retired champion Main Sequence after training. First suggested by the trainer’s wife Anita and assistant Cat Magee, the idea was to blow off steam, expend excess energy and maybe learn something. So Pino pulled her hind shoes, and to the paddock she went.
“She was so cantankerous that we were just, ‘Let’s just leave her out all day,’ ” Motion said. “We would kick her out after training and she’d just stay out with him. It mellowed her. She was much more amenable after that.”
Mean Mary made her debut in September on the dirt at Laurel Park, then won her next start (on the turf) at Keeneland in October. Second at Aquedcut in November, she went to Florida and won in allowance company at Gulfstream in December to start a four-race winning streak.
Caraballo got aboard this spring, and wasn’t sure what to expect.
“One morning I showed up and it said Mean Mary next to my name,” he said. “I was like, ‘Don’t do this to me.’ I was panicking. I saw what she can do.”
But Mean Mary isn’t so mean anymore. She still goes to and from the track with the lead pony, still has an edge, but she’s a dream ride.
“She’s been good to me,” said Caraballo, the brother of former jockey Jose. “Lately, she’s been really good and I was kind of worried. Is she maturing? Or is something wrong?”
Mean Mary and Caraballo worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 at Fair Hill last Saturday – eating up the Tapeta track with long strides – after standing for 10 minutes or so with the lead pony. She worked alone, and Motion talked his rider through it via radio.
“When I get to breeze her I’m always nervous because it feels like you’re walking,” Caraballo said. “I started out a little bit slow, then Graham said to let her pick it up a little bit and I (smooch/chirp noise) and she was there. You can feel it when she picks it up. She’s so smooth. She’s a really nice filly.”
She’ll have to be Sunday.
Rise Up. Rushing Fall edges Mean Mary for another Grade 1 victory. Written for Aug. 26 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.
Bob Edwards walked through the clubhouse on his way to the paddock bar for some bubbly – perhaps a better libation than what he joked about having postrace – right about the time Graham Motion went searching for a trash can.
The contrasts came after Rushing Fall, racing for Edwards’ e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, edged the Motion-trained Mean Mary in the race of the 2020 Saratoga Race Course meeting to date. Rushing Fall won the Grade 1 Diana by a neck over Mean Mary in a sharp 1:45.88 over the firm but still drying out inner turf course, the winner’s second Grade 1 score of 2020 and trainer Chad Brown’s fifth consecutive victory in the stakes for fillies and mares.
“To win at Saratoga is tough, to win the Diana in a Grade 1 against this field is impressive,” Edwards said. “She’s a special horse for the family. As you know my wife is a Saratogian, she was born here . . . so for the family that’s not here back at the house, sucking back some Coronas, this is a big deal for them.”
Edwards equated his own giddy feelings to being somewhat like “sitting in my bathroom stealing whip cream and doing nitrous shots, all hopped up and super happy” after Rushing Fall ran her record to 11-for-14 with two seconds and earnings of $2,553,000.
The owner was pretty excited, but will save the whip cream for ice cream sundaes.
The 5-year-old More Than Ready mare also won Grade 1 stakes at 2, 3 and 4, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2017 at Del Mar and back-to-back editions of Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley in 2019 and 2020.
The only thing missing on her resume is an Eclipse Award and with a 3-for-3 record in 2020 Rushing Fall is the likely leader in the division. Edwards, who campaigned champion Good Magic, isn’t ready to collect the hardware but likes to be in the conversation.
“That would be unbelievable and thanks if you guys vote for me, thanks,” he said. “Rushing Fall, if you want me to write in the ballot that would be spectacular.
“Everybody would love to win an Eclipse Award, that’s a special occasion for a special horse. She’s done everything right for us. You see the company she’s in now with Lady Eli, Beholder, some of these spectacular racehorses way before my time, but to be in that company, to have a horse in that company and be in business for five, six years is really something special.”
Rushing Fall’s special performance under Javier Castellano, who called her “one of the best fillies I’ve rode in my life,” spelled another Diana disappointment for Motion.
Motion found a spot toward the west end on the clubhouse porch to watch the Diana, where he entered Mean Mary and Secret Message to make a third of the field attempting to win his first after an almost unbelievable string of close calls. He lost one of the two when Secret Message reared at the start, almost hit her head, and unseated Irad Ortiz Jr. before being scratched.
Mean Mary flew the flag for the Fair Hill team and took the lead from the start under Luis Saez, setting honest early fractions without any encouragement. Shortening up from races at 12, 11 and 10 furlongs in her three starts this season – all wins in graded stakes – Mean Mary flew through splits of :23.60, :48.38 and 1:11.90 chased by Rushing Fall, Call Me Love, Starship Jubilee and Sistercharlie.
Rushing Fall closed the gap to a half-length around the far turn but Mean Mary still led into the stretch, past the eighth pole and the mile split in 1:34.30. Rushing Fall gained a slight edge just inside the sixteenth pole and it proved to be just enough at the finish. The first two were 2 3/4 lengths clear of Sistercharlie, the 2018 champion turf female who had Starship Jubilee by 1 1/4 lengths.
Mean Mary joined Motion’s Diana runner-ups Ultra Brat (2018), Quidura (2017), Aruna (2011), Shared Account (2010), Sweet Talker (2006) and two others – Secret Message (fourth in 2019) and Miss Temple City (fourth in 2016).
“It’s the story of my life in this race,” Motion said immediately after, walking back to the paddock to check on Secret Message before talking with Luis Saez about his near gate-to-wire winning trip on Mean Mary. Twenty minutes later, walking to his car, the song stayed the same.
“That was the worst,” Motion said.
Brown won his sixth Diana and fifth straight, adding Rushing Fall’s name to Sistercharlie in 2018 and 2019, Lady Eli in 2017, Dacita in 2016 and Zagora in 2011.
He almost didn’t get the chance, at least not with Rushing Fall.
Rushing Fall started her 4-year-old campaign in 2019 with back-to-back victories in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley and Grade 1 Just A Game at Belmont Park. She then came up short as the favorite to her stablemate Sistercharlie in the Diana and her lone non-top-three finish in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland. Rushing Fall didn’t run again until early June, when racing returned to New York following the shutdown from the coronavirus and won the Grade 3 Beaugay on Belmont’s Opening Day card.
“She knows how to win; she’s a remarkable horse,” Brown said. “This is a horse that has won Grade 1s in four straight years. This is very rare company to do this. She’s a horse of a lifetime for anybody – for a trainer, for an owner, for racing.
A $320,000 purchase by Mike Ryan for Edwards at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, Rushing Fall could have joined e Five’s broodmare band or gone through the sales ring – where she’d likely bring a huge price – at Kentucky’s fall breeding stock sales at Fasig-Tipton or Keeneland.
“We’re very fortunate that Bob Edwards and his family put her back in training. Her last race of the year last year was not good, she’s worth a lot of money, they could easily have sold her or bred her. They gave her the time off and we sent her down to Stonestreet in Ocala, which we’ve been doing every winter, they do a fantastic job and then my team got a hold of her and took it from there. They executed like they always have, and the filly really came through. She’s special.”
Brown said Rushing Fall, who improved to 3-for-4 at 9 furlongs, would target the 1 3/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Keeneland Nov. 7. An earlier return to Keeneland, where she’s 4-for-5 on the turf, could also be in the cards for the Grade 1 First Lady during FallStars Weekend Oct. 3.