GARDEN CITY STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | FILLIES AND MARES | 3-YEAR-OLD | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8-MILES (TURF)
Martin S. Schwartz's Samitar was a rough-trip third in her American debut in the Grade 2 Lake George at Saratoga, but the Irish classic winner had a much cleaner opportunity in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Garden City Stakes at Belmont Park. Under a textbook stalk-and-pounce ride by Ramon Dominguez, the 4-5 favorite struck the front in midstretch and fended off the rallying Somali Lemonade by a measured head.
"My heart's going, beating hard," Schwartz said. "I thought she was going to do it a little easier for me. I'm very happy, though, but I'm a little more drained than I thought I'd be.
"This is the first time she has gone a mile and an eighth. I thought the ground suited her well. She likes firm ground."
Samitar, whose signature win came in the Group 1 Irish One Thousand Guineas on May 27, joined the Chad Brown barn following her luckless experience at the Spa. The Rock of Gibraltar filly also added first-time Lasix for the Garden City.
In the early going, Karlovy Vary took charge and got away with slow fractions of :24 4/5, :49 3/5 and 1:13 4/5 on the firm inner turf. Ciao Bella kept close tabs in second, Open Water skimmed the rail in third, and Samitar was well placed to her outside in fourth.
Ciao Bella was the first to accost a weakening Karlovy Vary at the top of the stretch, and the well-bred gray put her head in front. But Samitar was just rallying into contention under a patient Dominguez.
Quickening stylishly when asked, the favorite asserted herself. Then the long-striding Somali Lemonade emerged as a threat. Samitar rose to the occasion, though, and repelled her upset-minded rival in the final yards.
Samitar negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 3/5 and returned $3.70, $2.70 and $2.20.
"The plan [was to sit off the pace]; that's what I was instructed to do," Dominguez said. "There was a little concern in me because I didn't see any pace on paper. I knew there was the potential -- especially going a mile and an eighth -- that it was going to be a paceless race. But, everything worked out really well. My filly settled beautiful and she got a great set-up right behind the two leaders. I really had first run at them, so it worked out great."
"This filly, Ramon rode her perfect," Brown said. "She had been training great and blended into our program nicely. She came to me in good shape to begin with.
"I was happy to see her get 1 1/8 miles. That was my one reservation, watching her train and in her races. She has the quality to do it, but I needed to see it, and I saw it today, which is great. On the stretch out to 1 1/8 miles, she [naturally] put herself [closer to the pace]. Ramon rode a terrific race, and that was the difference."
Jockey Joel Rosario was pleased with Somali Lemonade, who was 1 3/4 lengths clear in second.
"She ran great," Rosario said. "[Samitar] was the horse to beat. I thought I had a very good chance turning for home, but it was too tough to get the winner. She was gaining, but she probably was second best today. The winner just kept on going."
Recent Irish import Tannery, unhurried in last for much of the way, finished with interest to grab third from Ciao Bella. Open Water, Trophy Wife and Karlovy Vary concluded the order under the wire.
Samitar's third career stakes score improved her record to 12-4-2-3, $856,854. As a juvenile, Samitar raced for the partnership of Nick and Olga Dhandsa and John and Zoe Webster. After finishing third in a key Newmarket maiden in her debut, she was pitched into the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot and sprang a 16-1 upset. Samitar later suffered near-misses in both the Group 1 Fillies' Mile and in the Tattersalls Millions Median Auction Stakes, and was also third in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes. She ended her 2011 season with a driving victory in the Tattersalls Millions Two-Year-Old Fillies' Trophy.
Schwartz purchased her prior to the start of her three-year-old campaign, but kept her with trainer Mick Channon. In her April 18 reappearance, the bay shortened up to six furlongs for the Tattersalls Millions Three-Year-Old Sprint versus males and wound up eighth. Channon stretched her back out to a mile for the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas) on May 13, but the soft ground went against her and she tired to ninth.
Samitar got her preferred quicker ground in the Irish One Thousand Guineas at the Curragh, where she scored a convincing win over subsequent Group 3 Jersey Stakes heroine Ishvana. The relentless rains at Royal Ascot put paid to her hopes in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes June 22, but she soldiered on for fourth in her European finale. Schwartz had always intended her to shift tack to the United States, and made the call to send her this summer.
"She's very athletic, this filly," Schwartz said. "She's not big, but she's beautifully proportioned. She's got a big heart, too. When she ran at Ascot in June, it was a crazy race. She was laying second or third, and there was a 20 mile-per-hour headwind and she finished fourth. All the speed horses ended up in back of her, and all of the horses in back ended up in front because they drafted off the front because the headwind knocked the daylight out of them. Plus the ground was a little soft there.
"She was very gutty. She fought for fourth that day, and even in [the Lake George] Ramon thought she was done and she fought back on."
Owner and trainer are on the same page regarding the next objective.
"The Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup [Grade 1 at Keeneland on October 13] makes the most sense," Brown said. "I'll talk with Mr. Schwartz before we commit to it."
"All things being equal, we're going to go to the QE II next if Chad says so, which I'm sure he will," Schwartz said.
Bred by Norman Court Stud in Great Britain, Samitar was first sold for $64,860 as a Tattersalls October yearling. She is a half-sister to a previous Albany winner, Nijoom Dubai, both out of the unraced Rainbow Quest mare Aileen's Gift. With her third dam being Group 2 vixen Optimistic Lass, Samitar comes from the family of English and French champion filly Golden Opinion.