It’s hard to believe that we are just a few days away from thirty years of Arlington Million Day memories. I’m proud to say that I’ve been there in person for many, while the others I was sure not to miss on television. As anything in life, the ones seen in person are always just a little more memorable, and today I would like to share one of those great Million Day races that I will never forget. Today’s column is about a filly who rocketed by me one afternoon on the Arlington Park turf course. The setting was the 2006 Beverly D. Stakes, and I was more excited to see the girls that day than their male counterparts a little later in the Arlington Million. On paper it was one of the deepest fields ever assembled for the Grade 1 race. It was a wonderful match-up of distaff turfers. Film Maker was there, a hickory turf mare for Graham Motion, and Todd Pletcher had the distance loving star Honey Ryder ready to go. Wend, Sharp Lisa and Live Life were talented front runners, while Rich in Spirit was a solid Midwesterner. None of them were favored though, that distinction clearly fell to a French lightning bolt, named Gorella. She had caught American’s attention with a fantastic finish to be 3rd by ¾ of a length in the previous fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which, if not for a horrid trip, she likely would have been the winner.
Sent off as the 6-5 choice by the savvy Arlington turf fans, Gorella would not disappoint. On paper, her victory reads like this; Gorella won the 2006 Beverly D. by 1 ¾ lengths. The final time was 1:53 3/5, one of the fastest 1 3/16 miles ever run at the Suburban Chicago track. But this was the type of performance that you do not want to be satisfied by reading the chart.
At the back of the pack for the first mile of the race, Gorella and her young French rider, Julien Leparoux, seemed to be in no hurry until the horses swung out of the final turn. Running widest of all, Gorella was suddenly asked to run. Sporting easy to notice fluorescent orange silks, the four-year-old filly seemed to take form of a fireball as she stormed down the green stretch. Last-to-first in a matter of seconds, to say the move was merely explosive is an insult. To this day, I have never seen another run quite like it at Arlington Park. Gorella had immense talent, and in the Beverly D., it was on full display for the world to see.
Top mares Film Maker and Honey Ryder were left to fight it out for 2nd with pacesetter Live Life. To further illustrate the quality of Gorella and the Beverly D. of 2006, those two would return next time to run 1-2 in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl.
Sadly, Gorella would only run two more times after the Beverly D. performance, winning the Grade 2 First Lady at Keeneland, and then finishing in the middle of the pack against males in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. The daughter of Grape Tree Road was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf female. She was denied the honor by the great globetrotting mare, Ouija Board. Gorella was retired the following winter, when bone chips were discovered in her ankle.
Owned by Martin Schwartz and trained by Patrick Biancone, Gorella was a winner of 7 of 17 starts and earned $1,456,209. The Beverly D. was the second of three consecutive graded stakes wins, and she also was a group 2 winner in France, where she finished in the money in her final two races across the pond, both Group 1 affairs. Not afraid to challenge anyone, Gorella ran against the males in four of her final nine races. But, once again, it is not the stats that tell the story. Gorella was a unique talent, and when you got to see her with a clear path down the lane, it was a thing of beauty, as it was that afternoon at Arlington Park six years ago.