By Alicia Hughes, director of NTRA Communications
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019) -- What will likely go down as the penultimate start of Morticia’s race career is also a leading candidate to stand as the most impressive outing the 5-year-old mare has ever uncorked.
Always consistent and never off the board on the turf in her home state of Kentucky, Morticia earned her second career graded stakes victory in decisive fashion Saturday when she headed every point of call to take the Grade 3, $500,000 Spendthrift Farm Ladies Sprint Stakes by 1 ¾-lengths over A Little Bit Me as part of Kentucky Downs’ blockbuster card featuring five stakes.
Bad races have rarely been part of Morticia’s afternoons as the daughter of Twirling Candy has placed in 21 of her 25 starts. If there was such a thing as an off day for the bay mare, it came on August 17 when she got herself worked up in the Saratoga Race Course paddock and ended up fourth in the Smart N Fancy Stakes behind race winner and fellow Ladies Sprint Stakes entrant, Oleksandra.
With a field of 11 rivals set to challenge her class in the 6 ½-furlong Ladies Sprint Stakes, Morticia broke like a shot out of post seven and kept that advantage all the way around the undulating course to earn her tenth career win and give trainer Rusty Arnold two graded wins on the day.
“It was great to see her come back. There was a question of maybe if she had lost her edge,” said Arnold, who also saddled Totally Boss to victory in the Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint. “Her last race at Saratoga wasn’t very good. We hope we found the reasons for it. Everyone was concerned about 6 ½ furlongs, but she had won at seven furlongs (in the 2017 Soaring Softly Stakes). I think this may even be better for her, the way she did it. I’m not sure this wasn’t her best race.”
Under handling from jockey Tyler Gaffalione, Morticia found herself flanked by rivals after the break but was soon ahead going down the hill in the wide first turn. After setting splits of 22.55 for the opening quarter-mile and 46.27 for four furlongs, she led by only a half-length, with Stillwater Cove and Painting Corners in closest pursuit.
“The track has been playing speed-favoring all day. I didn’t want to take away anything that came easy,” Gaffalione said. “She broke so fast. So I just tried to settle her. She got in a nice rhythm around the turn. And when I asked her in the stretch, she really kicked home.”
Digging in after leaving the turn, Morticia shook off her closest challengers and began to open up, holding a 1 ½-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go. Meanwhile, A Little Bit Me, who ran mid-pack initially, found her best stride, and Oleksandra was charging from far back.
“She was real agitated at Saratoga in the paddock, she didn’t handle it good. She’s that type of horse…. some days when she loses it, she doesn’t get it back,” Arnold said. “Down here, she was very good in the paddock, probably the best I’ve ever seen her. I liked being in front by a couple, but she’s been caught a few times in the last few strides. I didn’t feel good until about the sixteenth pole. We love Kentucky Downs and it was a really good day.”
Morticia was clocked in 1:15.85 as A Little Bit Me held off favored Oleksandra for place honors with Stillwater Cove checking in fourth.
“I was so proud of her, first time sitting on her,” said Joe Bravo, jockey for A Little Bit Me.
“The turf course has been really fast and really speedy. She was probably one of the very few horses all day that closed as well as she did. I take my hat off to the winner. She’s a very nice horse that beat us.”
Painting Corners, Coexistence, Cool Beans, May Lily, Ruby Notion, Pastime, Raven's Lady (GB) and Tiny Tina completed the order of finish as Morticia rewarded her backers with payoffs of $12.00 to win, $6.80 to place and $4.00 to show. A Little Bit Me, sent off at 20-1 odds, paid $17.20 to place and $7.80 to show. Oleksandra, the 9-5 post-time favorite, paid $2.80 to show.
Owned by G. Watts Humphrey Jr., who also co-bred her in partnership with Arnold, Morticia is now just shy of the million-dollar mark with $992,149 in earnings. She will get her chance to hit the seven-figure threshold with a start in the Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland on October 11, a race she won in 2017 and ran third in last year.
“She’ll run at Keeneland, that’s her place,” Arnold grinned.
That will also likely be the last chance for Morticia to leave another strong impression on the track as Humphrey said she is set to join his broodmare band for the 2020 season.
“She’ll definitely run there and we’ll go home and breed her,” Humphrey said. “It was most important to us that she could do it at 6 1/2 (furlongs), because she’s been so good at 5 and 5 1/2 - and now she’s proven she can get that distance against the best.”