Victory Ride recap: Charmed Life

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Trainer Dave Duggan figured he was running for second money when he entered Porte Bonheur in Saturday’s Grade III Victory Ride Stakes. At the eighth-pole, Duggan started to believe Porte Bonheur had a shot of collaring Indyanne, the 2-5 favorite. Inside the eighth-pole Duggan was hollering. At the sixteenth-pole, he knew Porte Bonheur had the measure of the undefeated Indyanne.

Porte Bonheur (Ramon Dominguez) came flying late to reel in Indyanne and win the 6-furlong Victory Ride by a half-length. Informed Decision finished third, 3 lengths behind Indyanne in the Grade III stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Porte Bonheur, “Lucky Charm” in French, was the fourth choice at 11-1.

“I was nervous at the entry time when I saw Indyanne in there,” Duggan said. “I knew I was doing good, but I was afraid of her. (Porte Bonheur) proved she is legit today. This brings a little legitimacy to our outfit. We are a small outfit trying to get going.”

Consider it done.

The former assistant to Eoin Harty and John Kimmel picked up his fifth win of the meet (from just 12 starts) and first graded stakes score in the Victory Ride. Duggan, a 40-year-old Irishman, went out on his own in 2005 and has a stable of 20 horses.

Duggan was taking on some of the biggest names in the business in the $110,100 stakes as Steve Asmussen, Greg Gilchrist, Bill Mott, Jonathan Sheppard and Barclay Tagg also brought runners. Gilchrist’s Indyanne scared everyone with an unblemished record in four starts – rocketing out of the starting gate with the lead in each of those races.

Yesterday, she lunged at the break and broke behind her five rivals. Jockey Russell Baze soon zoomed up the rail with Indyanne, who was then hounded by J Z Warrior through a half-mile in 45 seconds.

Indyanne looked to have shaken off the challenge, and the less-than-perfect trip, when she sailed past the eighth-pole with a 1 1/2-length lead. But Porte Bonheur, who had a far sweeter trip, was full of run in the final furlong.

Gilchrist said the winner “ran a helluva a race,” but he thought Indyanne’s chances were compromised when she was rushed into contention following her awkward start.

“Obviously, it probably cost us the race, taking nothing away from the winner,” he said. “You know, Russell had a choice: He could’ve sat there on her, but the fence opened and he went ahead and let her run through there. That’s just horse racing.”

Dominguez had Porte Bonheur well-placed in fourth in the early running. She turned on the engines early in the stretch when she split horses. Porte Bonheur, a robust chestnut with a burnished coat, covered the 6 furlongs in 1:09.51. She returned $24.60 to win.

Porte Bonheur won the Flanders Stakes here Aug. 2. That win, the filly’s third from six starts, immediately had Duggan thinking of the Victory Ride.

Owned by the German-based Johanna Murphy-Leopoldsberger, Porte Bonheur, has been a bit of a challenge for Duggan.

The Hennessy filly has her quirks, according to the trainer, and has cotton stuffed in her ears to muffle sound when she runs.

“She’s a redhead; she’s nervous,” Duggan said by way of explanation. “It’s not rocket science what I have done with her; it’s common sense.”

The next stop could be the Grade II Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont Park Sept. 20.

As much as Duggan looks forward to that, he will miss Saratoga.

“I’m never leaving Saratoga,” he told friends while sipping bubbly in the trustees’ room after the race. His friends urged Duggan to make a toast in Gaelic, but he simply said, “Cheers,” and clinked glasses. A celebrant played editor and asked to make sure a good photograph of the trainer appeared with this story.

Duggan grinned and said, “Oh, I’m not so good on the photos, but I can train a horse.”

And he has the winner’s circle photos from Saratoga to prove it.