A handful of strides out of the gate Saturday found Cathryn Sophia in a very unfamiliar position at this stage of her young career - actually behind rivals - and John Servis admitted to feeling a wave of doubt sweep over him as he watched from the stands at Gulfstream Park.
Cathryn Sophia, hammered down to 1-10 against five others in the Grade 2 Forward Gal, came away slow and was fourth early. She'd barely been headed in her two prior victories at Parx Racing and Laurel Park, so Servis' concern was justified. Thankfully for her trainer, and not so much for the connections of the others in the $200,000 stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Cathryn Sophia was just as professional from off the pace as she was on the pace and cruised to another open-length win.
"After the break I was sick to my stomach with her 1-9 or 1-5, whatever she was, and getting off like that," Servis said Monday morning, two days removed from the race and with the benefit of watching the replay multiple times. "Obviously it was a completely different running style than we were used to and it wasn't our choice.
"I watched the break many times and she just wasn't standing real well and when she came out she actually fell out of there with the other horses but she hopped over, I guess to try and get herself gathered up, and subsequently lost about 4 or 5 lengths."
The 4-length head-start the Street Boss filly gave her rivals through the opening quarter - and undoubtedly because of the better quality of the field she was facing - probably proved the difference between winning by double-digit lengths and the 5 1/2-length final margin.
That's speculation of course.
What is fact is Cathryn Sophia's three victories are now by a combined 34 1/2 lengths for Servis and owner Chuck Zacney's Cash Is King Stable. She's quickly become one to watch and if she keeps it up Cathryn Sophia might be the most talked about filly in her division not named Songbird.
Servis knows there's a long way to go before that point. He's been on the big stage many times, including with the horse everybody associates with his name, Smarty Jones, not to mention a good list of top-tier females that have won the Acorn, Alabama and Coaching Club American Oaks.
One thing that gives Servis optimism for Cathryn Sophia's races down the road, which will immediately include the Grade 2 Davona Dale going 1 mile Feb. 27 at Gulfstream, is the filly's ability to handle some adversity.
"After it was over I told Joel (Rosario), I said, 'now that she's won, I'm glad it happened,' because we got to see another side of her," Servis said. "She settled so nice and Joel told me, 'John, she's so professional she'll do whatever you want.' He told me she took herself up to horses, got in that pocket and was very content to sit tight, not worry about anything. He said, 'when I pulled the trigger she just, shmhh, that was it.' "
Servis agreed that it's unfair to compare horses just because they were in his barn, or because they're fillies or because they might win in similar style, but also conceded that Cathryn Sophia reminds him of Round Pond.
Round Pond won six of her first eight starts while Servis trained her for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm. She won four straight during that stretch, including the Honeybee and Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park. Round Pond also won the Grade 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn early in her 4-year-old season highlighted by a victory in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.
"The one horse that she reminds me a lot of is Round Pond. She took a long time getting there, too," Servis said. "Round Pond didn't even start until her 3-year-old year."
Cathryn Sophia did start at 2, but didn't make it to the races until Oct. 31. Servis said Cathryn Sophia "joint wise was a little immature" and that he stopped on her twice during the spring and summer as she got closer to a race.
Purchased by Zacney for $30,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale, Cathryn Sophia got her early training at Dr. Barry and Shari Eisaman's Eisaman Equine and the filly's training in Ocala was interrupted more than once because of minor ailments.
"It was the same way with Round Pond," Servis said. "We had to back off of her, then when she finally did start to come around we were like, 'wow, she'll be alright.' Attitude wise both horses were just great to work around.
"But I will say this, the only thing with Cathryn is she's not a morning horse. Meaning, first thing in the morning when the help comes and ties her to the back wall, then I come in and check the legs, all that stuff, when you go to get her you better go with two hands of peppermints. She'll chase you out of that stall. I mean fire at you. She's like, 'leave me alone, it's too early, I don't want to be bothered.'
"Once you get her, I tell you, the whole rest of the day she's like a pussycat. Even after she trains, put her back in the stall, cut her loose, do her up, go in and get her she's a pussycat. She's fine. But first thing in the morning she does not want to be messed with."
Cathryn Sophia was the second of two winners Saturday at Gulfstream for Servis, who has a string of 14 this winter at Palm Meadows. He also sent out the 3-year-old Scat Daddy filly Whistling Straits to win a 1-mile maiden in the race before Cathryn Sophia's victory in the Forward Gal.
- While John Servis was scorching Gulfstream Park, his older brother, Jason, was doing the same at Aqueduct. Jason Servis produced Sunny Ridge to win the Grade 3 Withers for owner/breeder Dennis Drazin. Bred in New Jersey, Sunny Ridge won for the third time in his six-race career.
- And that makes four. Shadwell Stable's Mohaymen improved his record to 4-for-4 with a matter-of-fact score in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park Saturday. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Junior Alvarado, the son of Tapit sat, split and skipped to a 3 ½-length score over Greenpointcrusader and four others in the Grade 2 stakes.
The undefeated Nyquist has yet to make his 3-year-old debut but he's got company at the top of the Triple Crown contender list. Purchased for $2.2 million as a yearling, Mohaymen won his debut at Belmont Park in September, notched the Grade 2 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen in November and made his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull. Next stop, the Fountain of Youth Feb. 27.
- Mohaymen and Cathryn Sophia weren't the only ones to bolster undefeated records at Gulfstream Park Saturday.
Awesome Banner earned his second stakes win and third career victory, sweeping the Grade 2 Swale Stakes for owner/breeders Jacks or Better Farm and trainer Stanley Gold. The Florida-bred son of Awesome Of Course trounced five rivals by 5 lengths for jockey Jose Caraballo.