When even-money favorite Princess Grace broke dead last in the field of nine in the Calumet Bourbon Ladies Turf (G3) at Kentucky Downs, trainer Michael Stidham’s nerves got frayed, but his stomach never really dropped. This was, after all, the filly who had already won at five different tracks, over two surfaces, and was a half-length away from being undefeated.
Sure enough, as the one mile test played itself to fruition, Stidham got to enjoy the latest example of why Princess Grace has become a problem to be reckoned with in the female turf division.
After making up as much as eight lengths under jockey Florent Geroux, Princess Grace saved ground down the stretch, came through an opening and rallied to finish a half-length ahead of Dalika (GER) in the $750,000 race at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 11, one of five graded stakes on card.
With the victory, the daughter of Karakontie (JPN) now boasts four consecutive graded wins and six triumphs for seven career outings. The only time she has been defeated was when she came up just short in the 2020 Valley View Stakes (G3) at Keeneland so, even with her less than auspicious start, Stidham kept the faith that she would deliver her usual result.
“That always gives you big concern,” Stidham said of Princess Grace breaking at the back. “But she’s so versatile, that she can lay right off of it if they’re going slow. She can sit back if they’re going quick like they were at Del Mar (a victory in the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Stakes) the other day. With the kind of horse she is, you worry but you’re not as worried.”
Following Princess Grace’s 1 ¼-length win in the Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar, Stidham initially planned to keep the filly on the shelf until the Keeneland meet began in October. Owner/breeders’ John and Susan Moore made a compelling argument otherwise, urging Stidham to go ahead and enter in Saturday’s test in case the field came up with their charge as the likely favorite.
“The credit for this race goes to Susan Moore,” Stidham said. “The plan was to wait and go in the First Lady (at Keeneland) and go for the Grade 1 and Susan said ‘Well let’s enter and take a look’. That’s where this race came from. For $750,000 we looked like on paper, and only on paper, we looked like the fastest horse but that doesn’t always work when you get on the track. But when you’re the fastest horse for $750,000, and the horse is doing good, you take a shot.”
Princess Grace was clocked at 1:34.25 for the mile on a firm turf course. Cutting most of the early fractions of :23.02, :46.66, 1:10.79 and 1:22.23 was longshot Sara Sea, who faded to eighth.
It was a tight finish, as German-bred Dalika, with the meet’s leading rider, Joel Rosario, came wide down the lane and edged out Abscond and Flavien Prat, by a nose.
“She ran very well,” Rosario said of Dalika, who overcame an outside post. “The horse got through on the inside, but I was happy with her race.”
Dalika’s trainer, Al Stall Jr., said Princess Grace saving ground was the difference.
“We didn’t quite get over,” he said. “We knew the rail is a little better place to be. But outside draw, there was always a horse on our left. But she ran as hard as she could for as long as she could. Just couldn’t get there. The inside split for the winner; that’s the difference.”
Out of the Silent Name mare Masquarade, who was also trained by Stidham, Princess Grace paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20 as the only favorite of Saturday’s five grade stakes. Dalika returned $4.40 and $3, with Abscond paying $3.40 for show.
“You look at her form and I think this is the seventh different track she’s run on,” said Stidham, who indicated that the First Lady at Keeneland could be next for Princess Grace. “Florent is the first rider who has ridden her back. She’s had different riders, different surfaces, different tracks, won on the dirt. These are the kind of horses everyone dreams of having.”