It has been a decade since the end of the Philadelphia Triple Crown domination when Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro, all with Philly connections, won an incredible five of seven Triple Crown races and lost the other two by a combined two lengths.
The brilliant filly Cathryn Sophia won't be on the Triple Crown trail regardless of how she does in Saturday's Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, but it seems somehow fitting that she is trained by the man who gave us 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones and owned by the man who put together the five-person partnership for Afleet Alex, who won the 2005 Preakness and Belmont.
John Servis has trained some very good 3-year-old fillies, Jostle and Round Pond being the very best. He wasn't quite sure what he had in Cathryn Sophia until she made her debut Oct. 30 at Parx Racing.
"She doesn't like to gallop," Servis said. "She goes and gallops just because she has to. She doesn't really care to do that. Until we started watching her breeze, I didn't really think a whole lot of her, to be honest with you."
The trainer liked the filly in her first start because of those breezes. He just did not expect what he got. Cathryn Sophia won her maiden by 12-3/4 lengths and got a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.
"I knew she could run, but I didn't think she'd run like that," Servis said.
Five weeks later, Cathryn Sophia won a Laurel stakes by 16-1/4 lengths and got a 94 Beyer. On Jan. 30 at Gulfstream, the filly took dirt for the first time when she did not break well in the Grade 2 Forward Gal at Gulfstream. No matter, she exploded in the stretch to win by 5-1/2 lengths and get a 91 Beyer.
Chuck Zacney, who put up $75,000 for his partnership to buy Afleet Alex in 2004, purchased the daughter of Street Boss for $30,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale in Timonium, Md. He definitely did not imagine her winning her first three starts by nearly 35 lengths.
"I was looking for a Maryland-bred, somewhat inexpensive," Zacney said. "She wasn't a big filly, well-balanced, athletic. I said, 'What the heck, let's take a chance.'"
"I really liked Mineshaft on the dam's side."
The $30,000 purchase has earned $212,760 so far. She is by a sprinter and looks like a sprinter, but
"She doesn't look like a router, but her last race sort of answered a lot of questions as far as if she'll settle and sit behind horses," Servis said. "I feel a little bit better about the distance after her last race than I did going in. You're not going to look at her and say she's definitely a two-turn filly. She's just not made like that."
Any Jostle or Round Pond comparisons?
"If you look at this filly, she's built a little like Round Pond, but attitude-wise she acts like Jostle," Servis said.
Servis remembers that when the veterinarian used to arrive in his diesel truck to give Jostle a shot, she would hear the sound and make it just about impossible to get into her stall.
"This filly is like that in the morning," Servis said. "When we go in to get her in the morning to catch her, you've got to go in with a handful of peppermints and it might take a half hour.
"She'll run you out of there. She just doesn't want to be messed with."
Zacney had four partners in Afleet Alex. He owns Cathryn Sophia by himself. It is no secret that it has been a struggle for Zacney in the business since Afleet Alex. He learned, he said, some very hard lessons, but he always kept firing.
Afleet Alex lit up racetracks wherever he went. Trying to duplicate that success is just about impossible, as Zacney has found out. But the man loves the action.
By the time of the 2005 Belmont Stakes, half of Philly was in the Afleet Alex entourage. I have been around the Triple Crown scene for 30 years, but I can say, without reservation, there was never a spring like that spring, when sleep was optional and never-ending parties were mandatory.
Zacney will have a few friends with him Saturday. If Cathryn Sophia wins again, expect the crowd to grow exponentially. The night of the Afleet Alex Belmont back at the Garden City Hotel, nobody knew who was supposed to be at the party and nobody really cared. You just had to be there.