ARCADIA, Calif. (March 19, 2016)–With blinkers removed, Reddam Racing’s homebred Smoove It rallied four-wide turning for home to win Saturday’s $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths over favored Velvet Mesquite. Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Doug O’Neill, the 5-year-old California-bred mare by Square Eddie got 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in 1:12.83 and survived a stewards’ inquiry into an incident at the top of the stretch.
Breaking from post position three in a field of five older fillies and mares bred or sired in California, Smoove It relaxed well under Prat and was next to last after the first half mile. As the field approached the quarter pole, she was set down and rallied strongly crossing the dirt at the top of the lane, but ducked in a bit approaching the furlong pole, causing Kent Desormeaux to steady sharply aboard Velvet Mesquite.
“Once she crossed the dirt, she wanted to go down towards the rail and once she was there, she was fine,” said Prat, who was pinch hitting for regular rider Mario Gutierrez. “I mean, she did something really good today. I rode her for the first time and she has a lot of speed and a great turn of foot. I rode her with confidence and she was comfortable the whole trip.”
Off at 6-1, Smoove It paid $14.40, $4.00 and $2.40. Second, beaten a nose, in the Grade III Wilshire Stakes at Santa Anita 11 months ago, Smoove It notched her first stakes win on Saturday and improved her overall mark to 23-5-5-4. With the winner’s share of $60,000, she increased her earnings to $338,575.
“We took the blinkers off and switched to a leather prong (bit) and it was really encouraging, how she ran,” said Steve Rothblum, assistant to O’Neill, who was out of town on Saturday. “She’s been doing well and was probably a little overmatched last time (when finishing eighth in the Grade II, one mile turf Buena Vista Stakes Feb. 20), but she was back against Cal-breds today and she got a great trip under Flavien.”
Fresh off a facile win down the hill in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint Jan. 30, Velvet Mesquite was off at 2-5 and paid $2.40 and $2.10.
Breaking from the outside post, she fell into a perfect stalking trip, sitting a close third approaching the quarter pole but had her momentum stopped when the winner ducked in.
“He (Prat) had sufficient clearance because I gave it to him,” said Desormeaux. “If I don’t get out of there, I’m going to clip heels. I don’t know how you could say that he had sufficient clearance because I had to give it to him…”
(The three-member Board of Stewards, Grant Baker, Scott Chaney and Kim Sawyer, ruled unanimously that although the winner did drift in, causing Velvet Mesquite to steady, the incident did not cost the favorite a chance at a better placing).
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Qiaona rallied from last to finish third, a half length behind Velvet Mesquite. Off at 5-1, she paid $2.10 to show.
Fractions on the race were 21.70, 43.78 and 1:06.57.