P. Dale Ladner’s Cilla notched consecutive stakes wins entering her debut at Saratoga Race Course. The Louisiana bred extended that streak when stepping up in class, dueling 4-5 favorite Souper Sensational in a thrilling stretch-drive before prevailing by a half length in the 74th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on Sept. 4.
After winning the Louisiana Legends Mademoiselle in June at Evangeline and the Blue Sparkler last out in July at Monmouth Park, the daughter of California Chrome saw Tyler Gaffalione in the irons for the first time, tracking in fourth position as Edie Meeny Miny Mo led the five-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in :22.25 on the fast track.
Gaffalione moved Cilla up out of the turn and closed within a half length of Edie Meeny Mino Mo with the half in :45.06 before Cilla overtook the pacesetter. Souper Sensational, under jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., pressed on from the outside, with the two fillies contesting on equal terms in deep stretch with light contact before Cilla drew away to complete the course in 1:10.05, notching her first graded stakes score in three attempts. A stewards inquiry and jockey’s objection into the stretch run resulted in no change to the order of finish.
Cilla, trained by Brett Brinkman, was saddled by New York-based conditioner Charlton Baker for the race. Brinkman, who did not take out a trainer’s license in New York, was in attendance but was not the trainer of record. Baker was credited with his third career graded stakes victory and first since Joking won both the 2016 Grade 1 Vosburgh and Grade 2 True North at Belmont.
“I don’t run any horses in New York. I may come up once a year and the girl that rubs this horse (Lisa Whitaker) used to work for Charlie,” Brinkman said.
Cilla, who ran third in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont last October (with Bentley Combs the trainer of record for the race), has won four of her last five starts dating to February, with her only non-winning effort in that stretch coming via a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Beaumont in April at Keeneland.
“She’s fast and she’s a 3-year-old. There’s limited opportunities for those fillies,” said Brinkman, who co-bred Cilla with Ladner. “We felt like after we got her on track a couple of races ago that we were going to let her step along and buy her way to the next one. She’s obviously bought her way to this one.”
Off at 10-1, Cilla returned $23.40 on a $2 win bet. She improved her career earnings to $326,000.
Gaffalione, who notched his sixth stakes win of the Saratoga meet, said he agreed that the contact did not warrant a disqualification.
“That’s not the way you want to do things. You want to ride a clean race and keep a straight path,” Gaffalione said. “Unfortunately, my filly was just getting a little bit tired and every time I asked her she wanted to come out a little bit. But we never crossed that line and I was pretty confident that we were going to stay up. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”
Added Brinkman: “I felt like both horses were a little bit at fault. Both fillies were running and both jocks were riding. The stewards were going to make whatever call they make, but I was still proud of my filly. She ran her race.”
Live Oak Plantation’s Souper Sensational finished 1 1/4 lengths clear of Li’l Tootsie for second for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. It was the second time this meet that the Curlin filly ran second in a graded stakes following her runner-up effort to Bella Sofia in the Grade 1 Longines Test on Whitney Day Aug. 7.
“I think they (the stewards) made the right decision. There was some contact but we couldn’t get by her. She just beat us today,” Casse said. “Maybe a little (had her momentum stopped), but I can’t disagree with their decision. He (Santana, Jr.) thought it cost her momentum and that when he hit her, she stopped running. These are big races. It has to be clear cut and I don’t think it was. I think the right decision was made.”
Off at 14-1, Li’l Tootsie, trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Dylan Davis, atoned for back-to-back ninth-place finishes to earn black type for the first time in five attempts.