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Hollywood Park: Top ladies regain form for Matriarch
By Brad Free
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – It might seem unusual for the leading contenders in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes to be winding up at the same time the 2012 season is winding down.
Whose campaign peaks in November, anyway? The answer is most of the eight fillies and mares entered in the $250,000 Matriarch on Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Dayatthespa missed summer in New York because of soreness behind.
Emulous missed summer in Ireland due to unsuitable footing. Tiz Flirtatious missed summer in California because of minor physical issues.
The good news is all three returned to top form in time for the $250,000 Matriarch. The mile turf race is the first leg of the pick six (races 5-10) on the final day of the Autumn Turf Festival that includes the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby (race 9).
Beyond the principals, 2011 Matriarch winner Star Billing is rounding into form and the field also includes 2011 Matriarch runner-up Summer Soiree, East Coast shipper Future Generation, and outsiders Better Lucky and Vamo a Galupiar.
Dayatthespa is 5 for 5 this year in her division, and a Matriarch win would give Eclipse voters reason to consider her for 3-year-old filly honors. Trainer Chad Brown is just happy to have her back. After winning in April at Keeneland, she had to stop.
“She came out of the Appalachian sore behind,” Brown said. “She didn’t have to go home; we kept her at barn. She came right at Saratoga, and that’s when we put together a plan for fall. We started forming a campaign for the second half of the year that made sense.”
Dayatthespa won an ungraded stakes at Saratoga and then wired the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland. Her fifth straight win put her on target for her first start against older horses in the Matriarch.
Javier Castellano rides Dayatthespa, the 2-1 favorite.
Emulous arrived Nov. 14 from Ireland. A 5-year-old, she will try to give trainer Dermot Weld and jockey Pat Smullen their second Matriarch victory and first since Dress the Thrill in 2002. Emulous is making just her fourth start of the year.
“It was a very wet summer in Ireland,” Smullen said, explaining her abbreviated campaign. “Then when we got her back, the track was very, very firm [at Ascot], and it probably took her a little bit of time to get over that.”
A Group 1 winner in 2011, Emulous was unplaced at Ascot and did not race again until early September.
“It was always geared that she was going to have a back-end campaign, and she put in a very, very good run again in the Matron.”
She finished third in the Group 1, which she won the year before.
The challenge for Emulous is her preference for “give” in the ground.
“That’s our concern; it’s going to be quite firm,” Smullen said. “You just hope that she’s older now, and she might deal with it a little bit better.”
Emulous, 7 for 13, is the 5-2 second choice in the Matriarch.
Tiz Flirtatious could upset for trainer Marty Jones in her second start this season. She won the California Cup Distaff, a turf sprint, after a layoff of more than eight months, and Jones welcomes the added distance.
“I’ve always thought she wanted to go long,” he said.
Jones said that she was laid off with “minor issues,” and that Tiz Flirtatious previously was reluctant to settle.
“She got a little aggressive,” he said, “and it seems like she has settled and matured. She is settling really well in the mornings.”
Tiz Flirtatious, 4 for 5, is listed at 6-1 on the line and will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.
Star Billing shortens from 1 1/4 miles to a mile. For the first time this year, she will be running three successive races without a layoff. John Shirreffs trains Star Billing, 10-1 on the line.
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