Emma's Encore rallies in Prioress

Prioress Stakes | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 6 FURLONGS

Emma's Encore was sent off at 5-1 in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Prioress Stakes at Saratoga despite handing 4-5 favorite Agave Kiss her first career loss when taking the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes on July 7 at Belmont Park. That didn't stop the Brenda Mercer and Peter A. Berglar colorbearer from providing yet another defeat to her more favored rival when running down Agave Kiss and Judy the Beauty in the stretch to just get her nose in front on the wire of the six-furlong contest.

"I think she improved a little [from the Victory Ride]," trainer Allen Jerkens stated. "She had to run her very best. [Jockey Junior Alvarado] has been good. It all counts. Everything has to go well. The horse has to run good, the horse has to be good, has to be fit enough. She really had to run today. Nothing was in her favor today, looking at the late scratch. It looked like speed was holding on pretty good.

"Like the old days," the 83-year-old horseman smiled. "We get to have a [painted] jockey [statue] in front of the clubhouse. I always liked to get a jockey in front of the clubhouse. Winning never gets old."

Emma's Encore settled into last under Alvarado, who on Friday guided C C's Pal to victory in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap. The pair patiently waited as Agave Kiss sped through early splits of :22, :44 3/5 and :56 3/5 while chased first by Tu Endie Wei and then Judy the Beauty. That one got the jump on the field in the stretch, easily soaring past Agave Kiss, and appeared headed to her first stakes win.

Emma's Encore was just starting her run, though, and came powering down the lane to stick her head in front of Judy the Beauty on the line. She stopped the clock in 1:09 1/5 over the fast main track.

"After she won the Victory Ride, I was really confident in her," Alvarado said. "She broke really good again. I got her to settle and feel comfortable in the race. We tried to save ground because I knew we were going to be running late. Turning for home, she was moving, but we were wider than I wanted to be.

"She gave me a really nice kick at the end. She ran really hard to win that race. Approaching the wire, I knew we had it. These last two races have really worked out well for us."

Emma's Encore paid $12.40, $5.10 and $2.80 for taking the Prioress. Judy the Beauty had 1 3/4 lengths to spare on Agave Kiss while Jazzy Idea, Livi Mackenzie and Tu Endie Wei completed the order under the wire after Jamaican Smoke scratched.

"It's not easy to win, but she ran great," said Joel Rosario, who had piloting duties aboard Judy the Beauty. "The horse that beat me she's a nice horse too. I never thought she would get to me but she did. But my filly is really nice and I think if she goes a little further she will be even better.

"I could tell the other filly [Emma's Encore] was coming on the outside. I had just passed the horse on the inside [Agave Kiss] and I knew [Emma's Encore] was coming fast, but my filly still ran great."

"I don't know," jockey Ramon Dominguez said when asked of Agave Kiss' third-place finish. "She ran good. She tried."

Emma's Encore didn't show much early on in her career, running off-the-board in her first three starts at Hoosier Park, Kentucky Downs and Keeneland last season. She was transferred to Jerkens for her sophomore campaign and immediately stepped up her game to be third against maiden claiming rivals before taking her first win in a maiden special weight, both at Gulfstream Park.

The dark bay daughter of Congrats added an optional claiming score to her resume next out at the Hallandale Beach, Florida, venue, but appeared overmatched when a well-beaten eighth and last in her stakes debut, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, while stretching out for the first time to nine furlongs. Jerkens backed off his sophomore charge a bit, giving her a brief rest before returning her to sprint races and a runner-up effort in an optional claimer at Belmont Park in mid-May.

Emma's Encore seemed to have finally put it all together last out in the Victory Ride, easily winning that six-furlong event by 2 3/4 lengths over Jamaican Smoke while Tu Endie Wei was third and Agave Kiss was fifth. She proved that to be no fluke in the Prioress, improving her career mark to 4-1-1 from 10 races and boosting her lifetime earnings to $342,958.

"Oh, sure, a lot the best," Jerkens grinned when asked if Emma's Encore was the best in his barn. "But one might come up. Maybe we'll have a two-year-old who might be better. That's what keeps you going. That's why you get up every morning.

"It's nice. It's what breaks me up," he added about the applause he received from the crowd.

Bred in Florida by Equest Thoroughbreds Inc., Emma's Encore was a bargain $2,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase. She is the first stakes winner out of the Wild Again mare French Opera, who is a full sister to Group 3 victress Wild Emotions, and counts as her third dam the stakes-winning King's Bishop mare La Reine Rouge. That one is best known as the granddam of ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby star Barbaro.

Others of note in this female family include multiple Grade 2 veteran During, Grade 3-scoring sire Green Alligator, Grade 1-placed multiple stakes heroine Lucky Lavender Gal and Barbaro's dam, dual Grade 2-placed La Ville Rouge.