05/19/2017 3:14PM

Happy Mesa just misses course record in Hilltop Stakes

Debra A. Roma
Happy Mesa returned $9.60 in winning the Hilltop Stakes on Friday.

BALTIMORE, Md. - Trainer Graham Motion has won Pimlico's Hilltop Stakes with some nice fillies – including, two years ago, with Miss Temple City, the first stakes victory of her accomplished career. The Maryland-based trainer picked up his fourth victory in the $100,000 event for 3-year-old fillies as Happy Mesa came flying late to just miss the course record.

"In the morning, she's kind of not very glamorous," Motion said. "But she's very game in the afternoon, and you have to admire that."

Happy Mesa ($9.60) almost wasn't even in the running to give Motion another Hilltop win. After she drew post 12 in a large field topped by a prohibitive favorite in Grade 1 winner Victory to Victory, Motion cross-entered the filly in the Soaring Softly Stakes on Saturday afternoon at Belmont. But he ultimately made the decision to put Happy Mesa on the van for the short trip down from his Fair Hill base - helped by scratches that reduced the field to seven.

"We weren't crazy about the post here, but with all the scratches, it worked out," Motion said. "We hated being in the 12 hole, and we wanted to see what [the Soaring Softly] looked like. But I think the mile is an ideal trip for her."

Happy Mesa and jockey Javier Castellano settled back in last early as Victory to Victory, keen to go under Florent Geroux, led the field through swift early splits of 22.78, 45.93, and 1:09.44. The favorite was still leading as the field straightened away into the lane, but grudgingly gave way as Compelled angled outward to pass her in upper stretch. But it was Happy Mesa, rallying fastest of all down the outside, who collared the leaders and kicked clear for a one-length victory.

Happy Mesa stopped the clock in 1:33.61, just missing the course record of 1:33 2/5, recorded in fifths, established by North East Bound in 2000.

Compelled edged Dynatail by a head to hold the place, with Victory to Victory another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

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This was the third victory in eight career starts, and second stakes victory, for Happy Mesa, who captured the Selima Stakes at Laurel Park as a juvenile.

She missed by a neck in last month's Sanibel Island at Gulfstream Park. Motion said he has not decided what might be next for the filly.


"We've kind of waited for this race since Florida," he said. "She's also been running pretty hard. We'll see."

Meanwhile, stable star Miss Temple City is back at home at Fair Hill, after wet weather in the East twice scrapped her plans for a season debut, in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on May 6, and then the Grade 3 Beaugay Stakes on May 13. Motion said her connections are still discussing whether to send her to next month's Royal Ascot meeting - her third tilt at England - without a prep.

"We're going to decide this week what we're gonna do, whether we're going to go to England or stay here and run in the Just a Game," Motion said, referring to the Grade 1 event on the Belmont Stakes undercard.