Queen Picasso swept past her pacesetting rival American Apple in mid-stretch to remain picture perfect through two starts in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Soaring Softly, a seven-furlong Widener turf sprint for sophomore fillies, at Belmont Park.
Trained by Christophe Clement and expertly piloted by Jose Ortiz, the Kingman bay made her stakes debut a winning one on the heels of a first-out graduation traveling 1 1/16 miles over the Gulfstream Park turf in March in similar stalking fashion with Ortiz in the irons.
Ortiz praised the work Clement has done between races to prepare Queen Picasso for her first start at a sprint distance.
“Christophe did a good job with her to get her to cut back to seven (furlongs), which is not easy,” Ortiz said. “She delivered, she’s a nice filly.
“First time out, she broke really, really sharp,” Ortiz continued. “I just let somebody else go to the lead. Basically, I was taking a big hold of her. I knew cutting back wasn’t going to be a big deal. Christophe trained her very sharp and she broke well. I just tried to save as much as I could for the end.”
Queen Picasso broke alertly from post 3 as Quarrel bobbled to her outside and American Apple rushed up to take charge to her inside and lead the compact field of five through an opening quarter-mile in 23.06 seconds over the firm footing. Ortiz held Queen Picasso patiently in second to stalk one length off the pacesetter as the trio of Quarrel, Senior Prank and post-time favorite Lady Beth raced heads apart down the backstretch in a battle for third position.
American Apple was asked for more by Eric Cancel on the turn while Queen Picasso drew nearer on the outside to match strides with her foe approaching the top of the lane after a half-mile in 45.83 seconds. Lady Beth gave chase along the rail as the frontrunning pair began to draw clear of their rivals in the lane and make it a match race between them. A determined American Apple finally gave way nearing the eighth pole and Queen Picasso gained a slim advantage before kicking clear at the sixteenth pole and posting the two-length victory in a final time of 1:21.24.
American Apple held place honors by a neck over the oncoming Lady Beth. It was a further 2 3/4 lengths back to Quarrel, who finished fourth by a neck over Senior Prank. Love Appeals, the Clement-trained morning-line favorite, was scratched.
“Jose gave her a good ride. They told me a lot of them (Kingman progeny) get a mile, so she might be a miler,” said Clement, who also sent out Big Everest to victory in the Cliff Hanger at Monmouth Park just a half-hour before the Soaring Softly. “She won well. The only thing I told Jose was to be careful, she can be a touch aggressive and a touch rank. I think he was a bit worried that the horse on the lead would steal the race and that’s the reason he kept at it.”
Ortiz said he knew he had to keep pressure on American Apple, who entered from a runner-up effort in the Mamzelle on May 3 at Churchill Downs and finished a hard-trying sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in November at Keeneland.
“I let the three horse (American Apple) get away easy that first quarter, and I knew she had a good shot,” Ortiz said. “She (American Apple) ran a good race last time and ran a good race in the Breeders’ Cup to only get beat seven lengths. I knew how good a filly she was. I let her go that first quarter and then I put a lot of pressure on her. She (Queen Picasso) got a little bit tired. The ground was heavy yesterday and I think it’s still a little heavy today. We ran from the half-mile to the wire, I was putting pressure on the other horse. Eventually, she got a little bit tired, but she was ready.”
Clement said he would consider stretching out Queen Picasso to one-mile in the $150,000 Wild Applause on June 24 at Belmont and/or the $175,000 Lake George (G3) on July 21 at Saratoga Race Course.
“Let’s see how she is. She can go for the Wild Applause, she can go for the Lake George,” Clement said. “She’s 2-for-2, so let’s enjoy that for a day or two and then go from there.”
Bred in Great Britain by D. Farrington and Canning Downs and owned by Siena Farm, Michael Kisber, Peter Deutsch and The Elkstone Group, Queen Picasso banked $96,250 in victory and boosted her total purse earnings to $138,250. She returned $7.70 on a $2 win wager.
Clement added that he will look to find another race for Love Appeals.
“She trained this morning and I didn’t think she was 100 percent on the way back to the barn; it's not bad,” said Clement. “I just don't want to have that feeling when I go in a stake."
Cancel, who rode American Apple to a victory in the Matron (G3) in the fall during the Belmont at the Big A meet, said the Daniel Leitch-trained filly would have benefitted from having a target.
“She’s a very nice filly to ride. She’s very straightforward,” Cancel said. “Today, I wish I had pace in front of me. I was the only speed, so I tried to take everything as easily as I could and she still ran a very good race. There were fast times and the filly that ran her down ran a tick better. But I’m happy with my filly’s performance.”