After two consecutive stakes triumphs at five furlongs, Caravel carried her winning form into graded stakes company, following a torrid pace and gunning down frontrunner Robin Sparkles in mid-stretch to conquer the Grade 3, $200,000 Caress Stakes for older fillies and mares contesting 5 ½ furlongs over Saratoga Race Course’s Mellon turf on July 24.
Bred, trained and co-owned by Elizabeth Merryman in partnership with celebrity chef Bobby Flay, Caravel was third in her first start in New York in the License Fee on April 30 at Belmont Park at six furlongs.
After a cutback in ground when capturing The Very One on May 14 at Pimlico and the Goldwood on June 25 at Monmouth Park, the gray or roan daughter of Mizzen Mast successfully returned to the Empire State notching her first graded stakes triumph by 2 ½ lengths under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Breaking near the hedge in the six-horse field, Caravel rated in third as Robin Sparkles flaunted her usual pacesetting tactics with Jakarta, who raced for purse money only, to her outside in second as the frontrunner registered the opening quarter in a swift :21.64.
Down the backstretch, Ortiz, Jr. angled Caravel three-wide and in the clear, asking more of his charge around the far turn.
With the half-mile elapsing in 44.58 seconds, Robin Sparkles was still the one to catch at the top of the stretch. Caravel swept up ground nearing the wire and collared Robin Sparkles outside the sixteenth-pole, completing the journey in 1:02.38 over firm going.
In Good Spirits made a late rally to finish second, a half-length to the better of Robin Sparkles. Tass, Flower Point and Jakarta completed the order of finish.
Never out of the money in nine starts, Caravel boasts a record of 7-0-2. The Caress marked a fifth stakes triumph for the Pennsylvania-bred filly, who won the Lady Erie and Malvern Rose over the all-weather surface at Presque Isle Downs during last year’s sophomore campaign.
The triumph also marked a first graded stakes win for Mid-Atlantic based Merryman, who praised Ortiz, Jr. for piloting Caravel with excellence.
“I don’t know if she’s improved, but I think people understand how she needs to be ridden, and the trip is better now,” Merryman said. “I said to Irad just be as quiet as you can leaving the gate because the least twitch of the reins and she’s going. It’s pretty amazing. You watch Saratoga and just think it’s the place to be. To come up here with a filly like that, it’s amazing.”
Ortiz, Jr. said he wanted to replicate his filly’s previous trip in the last out Goldwood.
“The whole turn, she was on the bridle waiting for the time to go,” said Ortiz, Jr., who earned his third stakes win of the Saratoga meet. “I wanted to make sure to go around the horses like she did last time at Monmouth. I was able to get in the clear and as soon as I asked, she gave me a really good kick – a good turn-of-foot.”
Following the Caress, Caravel will be transferred to the barn of fellow Fair Hill based trainer Graham Motion, with eyes set on the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Merryman will remain a part owner.
“We’ve talked for weeks about her. He’s watched her train pretty much every day,” Merryman said. “He’s just been so nice and classy and sweet about her. He was very much laying low today, but we talked a lot about her and we’ll continue to talk about her.
“Bobby Flay now owns a majority interest in her and we made a plan when he was interested in buying to make that change,” Merryman added. “That was something I was in agreement with from the time of the sale of the majority of her. Graham is in the next barn to me at Fair Hill [in Maryland]. It’ll all be good.”
Caravel, who returned $4 for a $2 win wager as the even-money favorite, brought her bankroll up to $367,872 after cashing $110,000 in victory.
The Caress honors the multiple graded stakes winning daughter of Storm Cat, who enjoyed a more prominent post-racing career as a broodmare, producing Grade 1 winner Sky Mesa as well as Velvety – the dam of Grade 1-winning millionaire Maxfield and Golden Velvet – the dam of turf graded stakes winner Lucullan. She hails from the influential La Troienne broodmare line.