Vintage Velazquez: Sistercharlie arrives in time

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John Velazquez does John Velazquez things. Then he tries to explain them. Saturday’s Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf was no different as the Hall of Fame jockey engineered a textbook come-from-behind move with Sistercharlie.

Sent off as the second choice in a field of 14, the Irish-bred broke with the first flight just behind Fourstar Crook but backed off after a sixteenth of a mile as rivals on both sides zoomed forward to create a sandwich going into the first turn. Paved checked first and Sistercharlie was eighth as the field filed into position. A Raving Beauty set up in front, followed by Magic Wand, Princess Yaiza, Thais and Wild Illusion. With a lap to go, Sistercharlie loped along in eighth. She was in the two path, comfortable after a half-mile in :51.81 on the good Churchill Downs turf.

On the backstretch run, Velazquez let his filly advance to fifth while three (and briefly four) wide. Ahead of him, favorite Wild Illusion and William Buick stalked the leaders. The Godolphin runner, favored at just under 3-1, was third and ready to pounce as the field reached the final turn after 6 furlongs in 1:18.56. Sistercharlie moved into fourth behind the favorite.

Directly behind.

“I thought he was on the horse to beat, so I followed him wherever he went and I was right behind him so he couldn’t see where I was,” Velazquez said. “I’m drafting right behind him. When he took a peek, I was so behind him that he couldn’t see where I was. As soon as the quarter pole came, I wheeled out and he wheeled out too. I was like, ‘Man.’ It’s like he knew I was there.’ He couldn’t see me, that’s for sure, but I guess he knew anyway.”

William Buick gets paid to deliver savvy rides too.

After a mile in 1:43.98, Buick said go on his 3-year-old filly, and the winner of back-to-back Group 1 stakes in Europe responded. Velazquez asked his horse for more too, and they straightened up with A Raving Beauty and Magic Wand instantly vulnerable.

Wild Illusion struck first. Just to her outside, Sistercharlie lost a little momentum while switching leads, then sliced into the margin. And Buick knew he had company.

“My horse took a little bit to switch leads down the lane and getting away from the other horse a little bit,” said Velazquez. “But once she switched, I knew I had him. She had that spurt once she switched to the right lead. It’s a great feeling.”

Sistercharlie drew even inside the final sixteenth, responded to five smacks on her right shoulder from Velazquez and got up to win by a neck – her fourth Grade 1 win of 2018. Owned by Peter Brant, the daughter of Myboycharlie won the Diana and Beverly D. this summer after starting the year with a win in Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley in April. Her lone defeat came when second to Fourstar Crook by a head in the Grade 2 New York.

Sistercharlie made five starts in France, winning three and placing in a Group 1, before selling to Brant and joining Brown’s powerful string in 2017. She made just one start, a second in the Belmont Oaks, before getting sidelined with a lung infection. She emerged this year as the best of her division.

For Velazquez, it was Breeders’ Cup win number 16. He’s been on all sides of Thoroughbred racing’s world championships – including two prior wins in the Filly and Mare Turf, three in the Mile and a career-and-life-threatening injury when he fell in 2013. Racing is full of narrow wins and losses, but never is the margin so tight than at the Breeders’ Cup.

“When you come to stakes like this, riding a good horse, and they’re giving you everything they can that’s all you can ask for,” Velazquez said. “The gap between winning and losing is very little. Today, that was two good horses, all good horses . . . I shouldn’t just say two good horses. They are all good horses and you have to run to beat them.”