SARATOGA SPRINGS It’s Tricky got the most out of an awful situation.
Royal Delta got the least out of a good one.
The beneficiary was Love and Pride.
The 10-1 long shot spoiled a rematch between last year’s two best 3-year-old fillies by holding off both to win the Grade I Personal Ensign in front of 19,181 at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.
The race started with a gasp from the crowd as It’s Tricky, breaking from the rail, stumbled so badly that her nose pushed its way into the dirt. It took her two scrambling strides just to get her head all the way back up.
Royal Delta, meanwhile, sat comfortably in a stalking position all the way around the track under Mike Smith, but once they came off the turn, she couldn’t make up any ground for almost the length of the stretch on Love and Pride, who was carrying 10 fewer pounds.
When she finally found another gear, Love and Pride, ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher, had enough energy left to beat 3-4 favorite Royal Delta by a half-length, while It’s Tricky overcame the brutal start to finish third just another length back.
“We really got exactly the trip we wanted, and any time one of the horses to beat gets a bad break, it goes in your favor,” Pletcher said.
The Royal Delta camp, Hall of Famers Bill Mott and Smith, were left wondering what happened.
The It’s Tricky camp, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Eddie Castro, had no such mystery to ponder.
“I was very unlucky at the start,” Castro said. “I lost my position, but she ran awesome today, she tried so hard. After the stumble, I didn’t think she’d do anything, but she tried so hard. There’s nothing you can say, you know?”
“It [the stumble] was everything,” McLaughlin said. “We stumbled terribly, and it cost us the race. She got up and ran very well, and we finished third, but it was a gallant effort after breaking so bad, and Eddie did a good job to stay on her.
“Highs and lows of this business. Very unlucky, because I think we were the best.”
“The complexion of the race changed dramatically,” Pletcher said. “We thought we were going to be in a stalking position, and it was most likely going to be following It’s Tricky. But the way it worked out, it was following the 2 [Brushed by a Star], and then It’s Tricky kind of moved up.”
McLaughlin and Godolphin Racing won the Travers on Saturday, then watched their 4-year-old filly buckle to her knees in the Personal Ensign on Sunday.
Royal Delta, owned by Besilu Stables, beat It’s Tricky in the Alabama and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last year to win the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award.
She’s held in such high regard to have been sent overseas to compete against males in the $10 million Breeders’ Cup World Cup, where she was ninth.
Although Royal Delta swung four-wide off the second turn in the Personal Ensign, she had clear sailing all the way down the stretch.
She remained in lockstep three lengths behind Love and Pride most of the way until the lightbulb went on inside the sixteenth pole, but it was too late.
“I don’t know; Mike maybe should have gone a little earlier,” Mott said. “I don’t have much to say about it.”
“I’m not going to make a lot of excuses,” Smith said. “The winner ran a bang-up race. We got outrun.”
Although Royal Delta had every chance to close ground in the stretch, Smith second-guessed himself for not moving earlier on her.
“In doing that, though, I could have tackled the long shot and made myself a little vulnerable for a closer,” he said. “We did that a little bit the last time, and it didn’t seem like the thing to do. In hindsight, it kind of was.”
Smith was referring to Royal Delta’s win by a neck over Tiz Miz Sue in the Delaware Handicap.
It’s Tricky’s misfortune and Royal Delta’s rather blase performance added up to a huge win for Love and Pride, a daughter of A.P. Indy whose previous graded-stakes success amounted to winning the Grade III Obeah in June.
Royal Delta and It’s Tricky each have won five Grade I or Grade II stakes.
“It’s nice to sometimes come into a race and not have to sweat it out too much,” said Pletcher, who is running away with another training title, but was in the unusual position of winning a stakes with a long shot. “If you get fortunate and it’s a result like this, then it’s a home run, and if you don’t, no one’s throwing rocks at you on the way out.”
Pletcher credited assistant trainer Michael Dilger for suggesting that they take the blinkers off for the Personal Ensign.
Love and Pride had one slightly anxious moment, when Velazquez showed her the whip in the stretch.
“It was a mistake,” Velazquez said. “I showed it to her, and she went back to the left lead and she started waiting instead of completely going on.”