LAKE PLACID STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES (INNER TURF)
A half-sister to Royal Delta, Crown Queen made her stakes debut a winning one in Saturday's Grade 2, $285,000 Lake Placid at Saratoga, rallying determinedly in deep stretch to score by three-quarters of a length. John Velazquez was up on the three-year-old filly, who notched her third consecutive victory when completing 1 ⅛ miles in 1:47 ⅘ over the firm turf.
"She ran well," trainer Bill Mott said. "She showed us that she really belongs at the top level."
Owned by Besilu Stables, who paid $1.6 million to purchase Crown Queen as a weanling at the 2011 Keeneland November sale, the dark bay daughter of Smart Strike hails from the same connections as the three-time champion Royal Delta, a two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and earner of more than $4.8 million.
Crown Queen stalked in second as Duff One showed the way on a moderate, uncontested pace in the four-horse field, establishing splits of :24 seconds, :48 ⅗ seconds and 1:12 ⅗ on about a one-length lead.
Xcellence, who rated third in the early stages, made the first run at the pacesetter, accelerating through tight quarters to narrowly strike the front with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining. Crown Queen was still about a length back on the outside, with Velazquez applying serious pressure as the wire fast-approached.
Crown Queen finally responded to her rider's urgings and picked up her rivals with a nice turn of foot, surging to win going away in the end.
"It was [a rider's race]," Mott said. "In those cases, you're glad that you have a Hall of Fame rider in your court, and someone that has the experience that Johnny [Velazquez] does. He'll make the right call as the race develops, and I think he did.
"We planned on not sending her to the lead; I was afraid she might run off. She broke and grabbed the bit and she was a little bit anxious the first quarter-mile but relaxed well once she headed down the backside."
"Two really nice horses were behind me, and I let [Duff One] go to the lead and concentrated on the two horses behind me, so it worked out," Velazquez said. "It took about an eighth of a mile to get her going, but once she switched [leads] down the lane, and I hit her a couple of times, she responded really well the last sixteenth of a mile."
The 6-5 favorite returned $4.50 for the victory.
"To run down those fillies, it makes you wish you were ready to run a month ago [in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks]," Mott added.
Duff One, easily the longest shot at 12-1, battled back in the final strides to edge Xcellence by a head. It was another length back to 8-5 second choice Minorette in last. V V Midnight was scratched along with the main-track only My Miss Sophia.
Bred in Kentucky by Palides Investments NV Inc., Crown Queen is out of multiple Grade 3 heroine Delta Princess, a daughter of A.P. Indy who earned $381,995. Her second foal, Royal Delta, is by Empire Maker and captured 12 of 22 starts, including 10 stakes, and was named champion three-year-old filly of 2011 and champion older mare the following two seasons.
Delta Princess is also the dam of Carnival Court, a four-year-old daughter of Street Sense who finished third in last year's Alabama; Grade 2-placed Empire Way; an unraced two-year-old colt by Distorted Humor named Khozan; and an unnamed yearling colt by Street Cry.
Crown Queen counts Group 2 winner Lyphard's Delta as her second maternal dam. The Lyphard mare produced Group 1 victor Biondetti and Grade 1 queen Indy Five Hundred. Lyphard's Delta is out multiple Grade 1-winning Proud Delta, a daughter of Delta Judge who earned champion handicap mare honors in 1976.
The female family is flush with black-type performers.
Third when making her career debut in a Saratoga turf maiden special weight nearly 12 months ago, Crown Queen concluded her two-year-old campaign with another third versus similar rivals at Belmont Park in early October. She opened 2014 with a victory at Belmont Park on June 15, taking a one-mile maiden special weight, and rolled to a four-length decision over entry-level allowance rivals at Saratoga on July 20.
The improving filly has now earned $398,000 from a 5-3-0-2 record.