W.S. Farish homebred Royal Flag, patiently piloted by Joel Rosario, stormed down the middle of the track to collar a stubborn Horologist in the 45th renewal of the Grade 3, $200,000 Shuvee Stakes, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares, at Saratoga Race Course on July 25.
One of three entrants for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, along with Gold Spirit (CHI) and Dunbar Road, the 5-year-old Candy Ride (ARG) mare made amends for her rallying second in last year’s edition when turned back by the pacesetting Letruska, who was coincidentally piloted by Rosario.
Horologist, a multiple graded stakes winner piloted by Junior Alvarado, broke on top and led the six-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in :23.35 while being chased by the slow-starting and hard-to-handle Liberty M D, who rushed up the rail under Brian Hernandez, Jr., and Gold Spirit piloted in the three-path by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
Liberty M D edged her way off the rail down the backstretch to pressure the pacesetter inside of Gold Spirit, as Grade 1-placed Crystal Ball, with Luis Saez up, tracked behind rivals in fourth well clear of the trailing Dunbar Road and Royal Flag.
With three-quarters ticking by in 1:11.13 on the fast main track, Horologist led the field through the final turn with Gold Spirit on her flank. Crystal Ball loomed large outside the retreating Liberty M D, while Dunbar Road blazed a trail outside rivals with Royal Flag in tow.
A game and determined Horologist dug in at the head of the lane and repelled the challenge of Gold Spirit with Crystal Ball lugging in on that one late in the lane. But it was the wide-rallying Royal Flag who found her best stride late, overtaking the field with a wicked turn-of-foot to secure the three-quarter length score in a final time of 1:49.42.
Brown, who captured the 2017 renewal with Paid Up Subscriber, praised Royal Flag, who secured a second graded-stakes win after taking the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm two starts back in November at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“She was able to get up in time. She was quite far back turning for home. I was very proud of her effort,” Brown said. “She showed that she has a lot of heart. She might not have run a lot of times in her career, but every time she shows up.”
The lightly-raced Royal Flag entered from a close second in the Grade 3 Doubledogdare in April at Keeneland.
“I thought her last race at Keeneland a few months ago was a good race for her,” Brown said. “I wasn’t sure what the pace was going to [dictate], so I told him to put her wherever she was comfortable and I saw her back there. The pace was solid enough and he timed it just right. It was a beautiful ride.”
Brown said Royal Flag, who is expected to retire later this year, is likely to target the nine-furlong Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti on Aug. 28.
“I would think so. Of course, I’ll see how she’s doing and talk to Mr. Farish,” Brown said. “We’ll sort of work backwards from where we want her last race to be. The way she got over the track today, you would have to believe that would be at the top of the list.”
Rosario, who won his second Shuvee, said he followed Brown’s instructions to the letter.
“Chad told me that to stay out was probably the best,” Rosario said. “I was just following his other horse (Dunbar Road). I just wanted to have a clean run when I started moving. When she started moving in the last turn and then with the stride that she has; I was not even asking for everything yet, so I felt she was going to run really big.”
Horologist, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, completed the exacta by a head over Crystal Ball. Rounding out the order of finish were Gold Spirit, Dunbar Road and Liberty M D.
“She has always been a good, game filly,” Horologist jockey Alvarado said. “We had been trying to track a little bit and make a run. It seems like she wasn’t happy being stuck in between horses. Bill said, ‘send her out of there, take advantage of the break and by the three-quarter pole if you’re on the lead fine, if someone else wants the lead just sit right off of them.’ She hustled me out of there, I put her right there and she fought the whole mile-and-an-eighth to the wire.”
Out of the Mineshaft mare Sea Gull, Royal Flag is half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Catalina Cruiser. Bred in Kentucky by her owner, Royal Flag banked $110,000 in victory while maintaining a perfect in-the-money record of 10-5-3-2. Sent to post as the 8-5 mutuel favorite, she returned $5.30 for a $2 win wager.