Zagora bounces back impressively

GALLORETTE H. | PURSE: $150,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE: 3 | 1 1/16TH-MILES (TURF)

Martin S. Schwartz's Zagora found the pace deck stacked against her in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland last out, but rebounded with a vengeance in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Gallorette Handicap, the first graded race on Preakness Day at Pimlico. Deftly rallying along the inside for Javier Castellano, the even-money favorite kicked 1 3/4 lengths clear of pacesetter Speak Easy Gal.

Zagora was returning to her sparkling early-season form, when she captured the Grade 3 Endeavour and Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs. The Chad Brown mare never had a chance to shine in the Jenny Wiley, considering that she lagged too far behind a desperately slow pace, and wasn't disgraced in fifth.

Although the Gallorette didn't feature an especially fast tempo, at least it was moderate, and Zagora was able to deploy her late kick to good effect. Unhurried in last as Speak Easy Gal covered an opening quarter in :23 4/5 on the firm turf, Zagora moved up a couple of spots through fractions of :48 and 1:12. She was within striking range turning for home, and when Speak Easy Gal floated out wide, Zagora took the gift and quickened impressively.

The winner zipped her final sixteenth in :5 4/5 to complete 1 1/16 grassy miles in 1:41 3/5 and returned $4, $2.60 and $2.20.

"It worked out really good today," Castellano said. "It was a great performance. The pace was pretty fast today. She didn't break that good. I was a little concerned about that, but the bottom line is that it worked out great. They spread out and I saved all the ground, and she finished great."

"Once she gets settled and gathers herself together," Brown said, "she really has a strong kick. Javier's a top rider and when he's on my horses, I'm a lot less nervous. Nine times out of 10 he finds a way. She didn't break that well, but I thought Javier did a great job to stay on the inside. He knew he was on the best horse."

"We wanted the lead and we were able to get there," Speak Easy Gal's rider Joel Rosario said. "We got very close, but she was just second best today. The trainer told me to get out there and to try to get her home the best I could. She tried hard for us."

Runner-up Speak Easy Gal had three-quarters of a length to spare over Laughing, who had chased her every step of the way.

Laughing's connections were hoping for a better outcome.

"She was in a great spot," jockey Ramon Dominguez said. "Unfortunately, the leader was drifting out enough where she was kind of carrying me out. It made it difficult for me to really make a good run at her. Especially from the three-eighths pole to the quarter-pole, she was getting out and kind of floating me out. Other than that, she tried hard. She ran hard. It seems like she has a big, beautiful stride and she would probably appreciate a little more ground."

"It's a little disappointing," trainer Alan Goldberg said. "She might want to go a little bit further. It might be too short a race for her. Ramon thinks that she'll run all day, which is what I thought. I thought about running her next week. I was worried she might be a little too keen, but he said she was fine."

Smart Sting ran evenly in fourth, another neck back, and was followed by Idle Talk, Camelia Rose and Baltimore Belle.

Zagora's scorecard now stands at 18-8-4-2, and the chestnut is approaching millionaire status with $958,589 in earnings. During the earlier portion of her career in France, the daughter of Green Tune captured the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux and Group 3 Prix de Psyche and placed in the Group 3 Prix de la Nonette and Prix La Camargo. She made her American debut in the 2010 Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, where she closed belatedly for second.

Subsequently transferred to Brown, Zagora reappeared with a near-miss second in last year's Hillsborough. Next came a third in the Jenny Wiley (then a Grade 2), and a fast-closing second in the Grade 2 New York, before she scored a career high in the Grade 1 Diana. Unfortunately, Zagora was not able to build on that Grade 1 breakthrough for herself, and for her trainer. She was a non-threatening seventh in her follow-up in the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine, and headed to the sidelines.

Zagora was bred by E. Puerari and Oceanic Bloodstock in France and sold for $139,602 as an Arqana August yearling. The five-year-old is out of the unraced Mtoto mare Zaneton, who is also responsible for the stakes-placed Zanet. Zagora hails from the family of French highweight older sprinter Titus Livius and Group 2 German One Thousand Guineas heroine Briseida. Further back, her fifth dam is noted broodmare Mia Pola, ancestress of French classic winner and multiple champion Sulamani, dual classic victor Dream Well and Grade 1 diva Tuzla, among others.