Fiftyshadesofhay makes East Coast venture a winning one in Ruffian
By Sean Morris | 05/11/2014 06:58 PM ET
Fiftyshadesofhay emerged victorious from a three-horse scramble to the wire to take the Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian in thrilling fashion on Sunday at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by another Hall of Famer in John Velazquez, Fiftyshadesofhay lagged behind the early leaders through an opening quarter-mile in a blistering 22.33 seconds and a half in 45.30. As the field rounded the far turn, the daughter of Pulpit still appeared to be spinning her wheels, and was guided to the inside by Velazquez to save ground.
Once they turned for home, the 4-year-old filly kicked in gear, but still had a lot of work to do and by the eighth pole it looked as if she was destined to finish third. Inside the sixteenth pole the determined filly conjured up one last run and surged past Grace Hall and My Wandy's Girl to win by three-quarters of a length.
"I was on the outside the whole backstretch and she didn't seem like she was going anywhere," said Velazquez. "They were going fast enough, so I thought I'd try to save some ground and put her behind horses and hopefully I'd get somewhere. By the three-eighths pole she started moving. I finally got out about the three-sixteenths pole and she responded. As soon as I got to the clear, she was running so good, I thought 'She's going to get there.' Not only did she get there, when she put a head in front she wanted to pull up. I said, 'Don't do that now, keep running.'"
The Ruffian marked Fiftyshadesofhay's first win since June 29 of last year in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks. She had raced predominantly in California for Baffert, who made the decision to ship her east for this year's Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs but then decided to skip the race after the filly did not train to his expectations.
"She had me a little worried there the way [Tom] Durkin was calling her," said Baffert. "I saw her way behind and I saw the hot pace, so I thought we had a chance. I told John [Velazquez] to ride her however he wanted and I guess he knew what he was doing. It worked out that way at Pimlico last year [in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan], and she won. She likes to run from off the pace, but you can't really do that in California."
The win raised Fiftyshadesofhay's bankroll to $946,547 for owners Karl Watson, Michael Pegram, and Paul Weitman. She returned $5.40 on a $2 win bet as the narrow 8-5 favorite and covered the one-mile distance in 1:35.70.
Grace Hall and My Wandy's Girl both ran valiantly in defeat, finishing second and third, respectively. The former was making her first start in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, and had not raced in over a year. The latter, trained by Mike Hushion, disputed the pace much of the way with the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Six Queens and dug in down the lane, finishing only a nose behind Grace Hall.
It was another 3 ½ lengths back to Six Queens in fourth, and Toasting and Parc Monceau completed the order of finish.