The sun shined bright over Saratoga Race Course late Monday afternoon, until the horses entered the paddock. Rain sprinkled down on the track on and off all day, the clouds conveniently opening up as post times neared.
Later in the day fillies and mares made their way to the paddock for the seventh, the $200,000 Caress Stakes.
Ruby Notion strode down the horse path just as rain began to fall once again. Ears pricked, chewing and licking at her bit, Ruby Notion tugged on the lead as her groom steered her right. The dark bay mare flashed a jagged stripe parting the middle of her face, her eyes darting from the saddling area, to the other horses, to the umbrellas peeking above the fence line.
Trainer Darrin Miller’s son and assistant, Chase Miller, greeted Ruby Notion in his sky blue sports coat, accompanying her as she made her way to the post parade for the 5 1/2-furlong stakes on the Mellon Turf Course. Her breeders and owners, Bonnie and Tommy Hamilton of Silverton Hill Farm, proudly cheered and hurried to the clubhouse as she departed.
With Florent Geroux aboard, 27-1 Ruby Notion broke steadily and settled off the pace, running through a :22.36 quarter-mile. Geroux swung outside of Girls Know Best and Brielle’s Appeal as they rounded the far turn, his mount’s ears pinned as she flew by the frontrunners. Chanteline accelerated to her right, a half-length off at the top of the stretch, but Ruby Notion was unfazed, winning by 2 lengths.
The Hamiltons bolted into the winner’s circle, Bonnie embracing Chase as they celebrated their longshot’s victory.
“What a running woman,” said Bonnie. “She didn’t care if she was 20–whatever.”
Silverton Hill Farm bred and raced both Ruby Notion’s dam, Modena Bay, and her sire, Great Notion.
“We had her mother and we bought her out of New Zealand,” said Tommy. “We were buying some horses over there and you can buy them for cheap. Her mother was a really determined little horse. We go to the sales, but the ones that we’ve raised on the farm are doing better than the sales horses. I don’t think we need to buy anymore.
“We did well with (Great Notion) and then sold him. He’s probably the best bargain out there. He gets a lot of runners.”
Ruby Notion started her career with Wesley Ward, breaking her maiden and winning two stakes as a 2-year-old. After a slow 3-year-old campaign, she won an allowance at Churchill Downs last June, ending her 4-year-old campaign fourth in last year’s Caress.
“We’re very generous to give them time off because they’re horses and they need time off,” said Bonnie. “This winter she was so cute, she was turned out with a bunch of fillies that we had turned out and she would see something and start charging up there to see what it was. The rest of them would be like, ‘what are you looking at? What’s wrong with you?’ She’s just a different sort, always has been.”
Ruby Notion debuted as a 5-year-old with Miller at Churchill in May, running sixth in the Unbridled Sidney Stakes, followed by a third in an allowance June 16. She trained well after the race, and shipped up to Saratoga last week.
“I went into the stall with her yesterday and she pinned her ears at me like, ‘be quick,’ ” said Bonnie. “So I hugged her a little bit and got out of her way. We knew she’d be sharp and ready, it just wasn’t the best weather day.”
All other turf races on the card were moved to the main track, leaving the Mellon Turf Course intact but saturated.
“She likes the yielding,” said Bonnie. “She broke and got out there, and at the turn her ears were pinned and she’s like, ‘out of my way!’
“This filly has been denied more times than any filly should have ever been. She’s not the most correct filly in the world as far as legs but she’s always been really spunky and really smart. Her dam was probably not the best but she was so gritty and wonderful.”
Ruby Notion earned the longtime horse owners their first win at Saratoga. They walked to the Saratoga Room as their mare headed to the test barn, celebrating a long-awaited victory.
“We hoped she’d get out of the gate good, there were some top sprinters in there,” said Tommy. “She laid up in there in the right place and thank god when she came around the turn she kept on going. We are realistic, we race a lot and we know what it takes. It was a big day for us.”