12/17/2016 6:26PM

Triple Chelsea rallies powerfully to win Lightning City Stakes

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Triple Chelsea (No. 1), ridden by Wilmer Garcia, wins the Lightning City Stakes by a neck over Nite Delite on Saturday.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Midway through the stretch of the $75,000 Lightning City Stakes, the only question appeared to be how much Nite Delite would win by. But seemingly out of nowhere came Triple Chelsea, who unleashed a furious rally in the final half-furlong to catch the pacesetter, win by a neck, and stun the crowd at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

Triple Chelsea ($20.80), ridden for the first time by Wilmer Garcia, broke from the inside post in a full field of 12 fillies and mares in the five-furlong dash on firm turf and settled in the middle of the pack. Nite Delite engaged in an all-out pace duel with Puntsville and Richies Sweetheart, the 2015 Lightning City winner, carving out fractions of 20.97 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 43.54 for the half-mile.

Nite Delight built a three-length lead at the head of the lane and appeared to have the race won, but Triple Chelsea advanced between horses on the turn, split rivals at the quarter pole, and turned on the jets down the stretch. She finished in 55.60 seconds, one-tenth of a second off the stakes record shared by Bucky’s Prayer (2007) and Smartys Emperoress (2013).

“We let the speed go, but we had to stay not too far back, so we hustled a little bit out of the gate,” Garcia said. “I tried to follow the leaders and have the best trip I could. At the quarter pole, I saw a seam between horses, and I said, ‘I can’t miss that. I have to go for it.’ We went through, and she responded. We were flying through the stretch.”

Triple Chelsea, a 3-year-old filly by Hat Trick, won for the fifth time in nine career starts, and her first stakes win pushed her earnings to $187,760 for trainer Anthony Granitz and owners Calvin Johnson and Carlos Tonda. She’s had a different jockey for each of her victories. She came into the race off a troubled third-place finish in a rich turf-sprint allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 16.

“Last time she ran at Churchill, she was tons the best,” Granitz said. “Corey Lanerie rode her, and a horse stopped in front of her and got in her way or she would have won that day. This was the race we were aiming for. What a way to end the year. I told him, ‘Ride her with a lot of confidence.’ I said, ‘There’s a lot of speed, there’s going to be pace, but just wait. She loves to run between horses.’ This shows you how classy and game she is.”

Granitz said he wasn’t sure when Triple Chelsea would make her next start.

Nite Delite, a 4-year-old War Chant filly trained by Linda Rice, was seeking her first stakes win in her sixth attempt. Back in August at Monmouth Park, she lost by a head to Joya Real after leading most of the way in the $61,200 Blue Sparkler.

Everything Lovely, favored in the Lightning City after winning the allowance prep for the race Nov. 26, finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Nite Delite, after getting bumped at the start and racing in traffic most of the way.

“Squeezed in the whole time,” jockey Jose C. Ferrer said of his trip aboard Everything Lovely. “She had a rough trip.”

Southern Ring, the only graded stakes winner in the field, having captured the Grade 3 Ontario Fashion at Woodbine in October, finished fourth. Rounding out the order of finish were Pretty Perfection, Sanctifica, Puntsville, Bibby, Richies Sweetheart, Firsthand Report, Catching Fireflies, and Come to Mischief.