The top two lights – 2 and 3 – blinked. Cocoa Beach returned, her saddle inched back behind her withers, and blowing hard. Simon Harris unfastened the overgirth. Adam Coglianese asked Ramon Dominguez to stay on Cocoa Beach for the photo. Dominguez hopped down, hesitated and then make his case to the stewards first. Jimmy Bell and Rick Mettee simply watched, not sure how to react.
Dominguez explained that inside started the chain reaction, thanked the stewards, hopped back on Cocoa Beach and steered her into the winner’s circle.
Coglianese snapped the photo.
The stewards deliberated.
Mettee fled for cover. On his way to saddle Fateh Field for the last.
Tom Durkin ended the stress.
“The result stands.”
It isn’t supposed to be this dramatic when a two-time Grade I winner goes off 3-4 in a restricted stakes. Winner of the Beldame and Matriarch last fall, Cocoa Beach towered above her eight rivals in the $70,000 De La Rose on the turf Wednesday.
At the wire, she was a neck better than My Baby Baby with a length back to Scolara and then had to withstand a claim of foul by Jose Lezcano, aboard fourth-place finisher Grande Annee, who claimed foul against Dominguez and Robby Albarado aboard the runner-up.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but Cocoa Beach earned her first victory this year while making just her second start since last year’s Matriarch. Owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Cocoa Beach finished the mile in 1:34.95 over firm turf.
Aboard for her prior five American starts, Dominguez settled Cocoa Beach into a comfortable spot, fourth, well off a rapid pace set by Lucky Copy. The front-runner took over from Modern Look early and posted a quarter mile in 23.14 seconds and a half in 45.92. All the while, Dominguez coaxed Cocoa Beach in the clear in fourth, about 9 lengths off the lead. Turning for home, she swung four-wide. That’s where the fun started.
My Baby Baby found her seam and sprinted to the lead. She might have come out a bit while Cocoa Beach might have come in a bit. Either way, Grand Annee and Modern Look played lettuce and tomato in a Dagwood and Lindelaan was nearly the toothpick as she checked behind the melee. Cocoa Beach recovered but My Baby Baby had quickly opened up. Cocoa Beach ran her down to prevail by a neck. Scolara rallied late to finish third.
“She ran a good race, laying in turning for home is a little bit of a concern, she did that a little bit in the mud, we thought we had some kinks worked out in her hind end but it could be where she’s fighting them a little bit,” assistant trainer Mettee said. “Once she straightened away she was fine, he was actually hitting her right-handed and she wasn’t laying in. You know these turf races, they never seem to be easy to win, they’re always grinds.”
Cocoa Beach, a nine-time winner before the De La Rose, returned to the races June 21 in the four-horse Floral Park at Belmont Park. Sent off the overwhelming favorite, she emptied at the quarter pole and finished last, 3 lengths behind With Flying Colors. With a sloppy surface as an easy excuse, Mettee took the heat.
“I misjudged her, she wasn’t as fit as I thought she was, she badly needed the race,” he said. “She was stiff coming out of the race, we weren’t so upset that she got beat, it was just that she didn’t seem to go forward off that race. We didn’t work her for three weeks.”
When they did, Cocoa Beach breezed three times at Belmont Park, including two decent 5-panel spins that restored Mettee’s confidence.
“She trained really well, her last two works were similar to her works last year,” Mettee said. “She came on with every race last year, especially so between the Breeders’ Cup and the Matriarch. She doesn’t look anything like she did at the end of last year, so she’s still not back physically to where she was last year.”
Dominguez was disappointed with the Floral Park, it was the first time she finished worse than second since emigrating from Dubai last summer, but he didn’t lose confidence in the Chilean-bred daughter of Doneraile Court.
“The competition was so weak that day, under any circumstances, she should have won. Sometimes they’re hard to explain. They all have their days, you can’t blame her,” Dominguez said. “She’s better than she showed today but I was happy to see her gallop out pretty good and come back feeling good. I know there’s more there.”