Photo: Kenny Martin
Today's Sand Springs Stakes at Gulfstream Park is not graded. Looks like it needs to be. The $100,000 turf affair attracted two of the most talented turf fillies in the land, and in an early season showdown, Celestine flashed her speed early and turned away the pesky Catch a Glimpse, on her way to an ideal beginning to her five-year-old season. When last seen, the daughter of Scat Daddy was finishing off the board against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint for trainer, Bill Mott. She now competes for new connections. Purchased by Moyglare Stud Farm for the tidy sum of $2.5 million at the Keeneland November Sale, the Grade 1 winning mare was transferred to another excellent horseman. Christophe Clement must love what he sees so far.
In making her first start of 2017 in the one-mile turf event, Celestine found no cushy spot for her return. Also making her first start since the Breeders' Cup was the Mark Casse-trained Catch a Glimpse. Like Celestine, the four-year-old daughter of Cit Zip possesses plenty of early speed. The seven-time graded stakes winner was sent off the second choice at 8-5 under Florent Geroux.
Bettors decided they liked the older mare a little bit better in this spot, and Celestine was sent off as the 7-10 choice in the field of seven. Assumed to be a two-horse race going in, that is how the Sand Springs played out from the first few strides out of the starting gate.
Catch A Glimpse broke well, but it was Celestine, and her pilot, Jose Ortiz, who took the initiative, and sprinted out to the early lead, with the former Canadian Horse of the Year tracking right behind. Perhaps treating the proceedings a little bit like a match race, Ortiz let his filly drift out a bit into Catch a Glimpse on the first turn. It was a tactic he would soon employ again.
The pair of turf stars led the field down the Gulfstream Park backstretch through moderate early splits of :23.95 and :48.25. Celestine continued to show the way, but her main rival would never let her get much of a lead. So it stayed into the far turn, and into the stretch. Before they hit the straightaway, Ortiz kept his mount away from the rail, making sure Catch a Glimpse needed to run just a bit farther to her outside.
The stage was set for a sprint to the wire, but Celestine quickened just a little bit better than her rival. Kicking her way home with a puff of dust over the South Florida turf course, there would be no catching the older Grade 1 winner on this afternoon. Catch a Glimpse kept trying, but Celestine poured it on down the lane, hitting the wire two-lengths clear.
“Everything went perfect," said a happy winning rider. "She broke well and she was very alert. I just sat there and sat, sat, sat and tried to slow it down the best I could and when I asked her to go she responded very, very well. I’m very happy the way she ran and I’m looking forward to a good year with her,” added Ortiz.
The final time for the flat mile over the firm turf was 1:34.59. Catch a Glimpse was never threatened for second, with Lori's Store running on well to prove best of the rest. As the decided chalk, Celestine paid $3.40, $2.20, and $2.10 across the board. The exacta over the other big name returned $6.00, and the 8-5-3 trifecta was good for $24.00
With the victory, Celestine raised her lifetime record to a very solid 15-7-2-2. An impressive winner in her first race for her new connections, she bumped up her career earnings to $885,515.
“She’s a top-class mare," remarked Clement. "She came to me in very good condition and trained very well. When you get a 5-year-old from Billy Mott you know you’re going to be OK.”
While this early season match-up of two classy turf mares was fun to watch, it should be noted that today's listed stakes race was only a beginning to their season. Both Celestine and Catch a Glimpse will have much bigger races to come.