ARCADIA, Calif. -- Trainer Jim Cassidy was so concerned about Evening Jewel's mental state in the moments before Saturday's $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff that he forgot to have a pre-race strategy conference in the paddock with jockey Victor Espinoza.
Cassidy wanted to remind Espinoza to keep Evening Jewel off the pace for the first half-mile. The jockey must have read his mind. Utilizing that game plan, Espinoza had Evening Jewel seventh for the first half-mile and closed well through the final quarter-mile to win the race for California-breds and Florida-breds by a half-length as the 2-1 favorite.
"I forgot to tell Victor to take a hold of her," Cassidy said. "He did it on his own."
The winning move gave the California-bred Evening Jewel her sixth career stakes win and first since the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last August. The victory ended a span of three losses that included a third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November, but a dull fifth in the Grade 3 Monrovia Stakes here on Jan. 2.
"She needed this race," Cassidy said in the winner's circle. "She was not 100 percent."
The win was especially poignant for owner Marilyn Braly, the filly's first victory since the death of her husband Tom last September. Tom Braly attended the Del Mar Oaks win in the weeks before his passing.
Evening Jewel's performance in the Sunshine Millions was similar to her win in the Del Mar Oaks when she was off the pace early and made a bold move in the stretch. In Saturday's race, she was sixth on the turn, racing toward the inside, and moved three-wide under Espinoza to reach contention in early stretch. Trailing leader Amazing by a length at the eighth pole, Evening Jewel ($6.40) finished best, and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.25.
Amazing, a Florida-bred trained by Marty Wolfson, finished a nose in front of the California-bred Ultra Blend, who was last on the turn but closed well while racing wide.
"If we don't have to go so far wide, that had to cost us," trainer Art Sherman said. "We weren't beaten that far."
Evening Jewel has won 7 of 16 starts and $1,182,943. In the paddock before Saturday's race, Cassidy was concerned with the 4-year-old filly's condition after the field was kept in the walking ring longer than expected, he said.
In the end, the incident did not matter when Evening Jewel proved to be best.