Whisper Hill Farm homebred Grand Sonata found racing room when he needed it, surging through an opening in deep stretch to run down stablemate Royal Spirit and win Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Kitten’s Joy Stakes by a neck.
The 10th running of the 1 1/16-mile Kitten’s Joy on turf was the second of five graded stakes for 3-year-olds on a program highlighted by the 33rd edition of the $250,000 Holy Bull (G3), the next step on the road to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1).
Winner of the one-mile Dania Beach on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream in his previous start, Grand Sonata ($13.60) completed the distance in 1:41.53 over a firm course under jockey Tyler Gaffalione to give Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher his second stakes win of the day following My Prankster in the Swale (G3).
It was the fifth graded-stakes win over the last two Saturdays for Pletcher, including last weekend’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). Overall, he has 12 stakes wins at the 2021-2022 championship meet, seven of them in graded company.
“I thought he was a little bit overlooked today,” Pletcher said of the winner, sent off as the co-third choice in a field of eight with Royal Spirit. “All his turf races have been good. He had a really tough trip at Aqueduct and didn’t get the win but he’s a really nice colt, very professional.”
Coinage, winner of the With Anticipation (G3) last summer in his turf debut, was sent to the front by jockey Luis Saez and ran a quarter-mile in 24.03 seconds and a half in 48.22 pressed by Royal Spirit on his right hip. Gaffalione had Grand Sonata settled in third along the rail, with 40-1 long shot Red Knobs on his outside.
“We were concerned there wasn’t much pace on paper and Coinage can be tough when he gets loose, so we wanted to be aware of that. The fractions were pretty modest. I thought both horses were in good spots, and both finished up well,” Pletcher said. “Actually, I thought Royal Spirit might have it for a second, but this horse has a big turn of foot and Tyler knows that. Once he got him in the clear they finished in a rush.”
Royal Spirit moved up to even terms with Coinage exiting the far turn with Gaffalione still looking for room in behind. A couple of openings closed quickly in the stretch before Grand Sonata was able to tip out around Royal Spirit and came with a dramatic late burst to get the edge.
“I had a ton of horse. I had to be patient to wait for a spot. A little crack opened, and he hesitated just a little bit, but I had so much horse, he wound up getting through and finished the job nicely,” Gaffalione said. “Mr. Pletcher and I spoke before the race. He said he didn’t see much speed in the race and to just follow (Coinage) around there and wait for a spot. When he got out, he really finished well.”
Coinage stayed on for third, 1¼ lengths behind Royal Spirit, followed by Eldon’s Prince, Red Danger, Speaking Scout, Father Glado and Red Knobs.