Dolce Zel (on the rail) edges stablemate Eminent Victor in a photo finish. (NYRA/Adam Coglianese)
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb and Robert V. LaPenta’s Dolce Zel overcame several obstacles to come out on the winning end of a photo finish with stablemate Eminent Victor in Friday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old fillies going one mile over the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course.
Neither a slow start nor traffic trouble could stop Dolce Zel from earning her second graded stakes triumph with a ground saving trip under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
The French-bred daughter of Zelzal lacked racing room around the far turn into the mid-stretch, but found a seam a long the rail to win by a nose, providing trainer Chad Brown with a sixth, and fourth straight, Lake George coup.
“It’s one of the many turf races up here at the meet that we really point towards,” Brown said. “We’ve had the horses and the staff to get them ready. Both jockeys did their very best today. Through the years it’s been a very rewarding race to point towards.”
Al Qahira broke on top, racing in tandem with Gulfstream Park invader Sister Lou Ann into the first turn as Dolce Zel, who broke a step slow from post 4, settled a rail-skimming third, Al Qahira led through a moderate opening quarter-mile in 24.13 seconds over the firm going.
Positions remained unchanged through a half-mile in 48.33 as Dolce Zel continued to save ground from third with Eminent Victor launching a sweeping bid on the outside from the three-to-four path around the far turn.
With Al Qahira still to catch, Ortiz, Jr. attempted to move in between horses past the quarter-pole in upper stretch but lacked racing room. Ortiz, Jr. then took Dolce Zel back to the rail as Al Qahira began to waver with Eminent Victor surging forward in the clear on the far outside. The final sixteenth of a mile saw Dolce Zel and Eminent Victor battle it out with the former getting her nose on the wire in a final time of 1:35.64.
It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Koala Princess, who charged late for third, a neck over Al Qahira. Completing the order of finish were Skims, Sister Lou Ann, Spirit And Glory and Heavenly Hellos. Republique was scratched.
Entering off a distant third as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 2 Edgewood on May 6 at Churchill Downs, Dolce Zel visited the winner’s circle for the first time since her North American debut where she finished a head to the better of stablemate Spicer in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Florida Oaks on March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Ortiz, Jr., who has piloted Dolce Zel in all four of her stateside starts, said her small stature came in handy.
“She’s tiny and that helps a little because there was not too much room, but that was the only choice [to stay inside], so I [went] for it,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “She got through, and after she got through, she put her head down and fought with the other one. It worked out good.”
Brown said the close finish was fitting, as he believed both fillies had an equally legitimate chance.
“People asked me all day walking around the track, ‘Who do you like? Who do you like in this race between them?’” Brown said. “I think I told them all the truth – it’s close. And it proved to almost be a dead heat. These situations are unfortunate that there has to be a loser because both horses ran so good. We almost got that, ‘I’ll get it one day.’ A dead heat here at Saratoga. You get two wins for that. Both horses ran terrific.
“Although she had trouble, [Dolce Zel] had a ground-saving trip and reserved so much energy that when they reached for the wire, she just had a little bit more there,” Brown added. “Eminent Victor stumbled at the start and had a wide run in the final turn and it might have just took a little bit of the fuel out of her that last 70 yards where she couldn’t really accelerate past everybody. I think that was the difference.”
Brown said the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid going just a half-furlong extra on August 20 at the Spa could be in play for both Dolce Zel and Eminent Victor. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer swept both events last year with Klaravich Stables’ Technical Analysis.
“Dolce Zel has always struck me as best at a mile. Of course, she was able to be effective at a mile and a sixteenth,” Brown said. “Eminent Victor looks like as she develops, she’ll run a bit further. Both of these horses could end up back in the Lake Placid.”
Dolce Zel, who returned $8.60 for a $2 win bet, brought her lifetime earnings up to $307,155 and record to 6-3-1-1.
Flavien Prat said Eminent Victor’s chances where hindered by her troubled start.
“You always want to break and get a clean break, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been,” Prat said. “She bobbled out of the gate, but she recovered well and I was in a good position without rushing her so it was fine.”
Live racing resumes on Saturday at Saratoga with an 11-race card, featuring the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks in Race 5 and the Grade 3, $200,000 Caress in Race 10. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
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By Ryan Martin