Stakes-winning Lucky Stride bolsters Top Flight Invitational field
by Ryan Martin
Sonata Stable’s Lucky Stride will look to build on consecutive stakes victories, diving into deeper waters as she competes against four fellow stakes-winners in Saturday’s 80th running of the $100,000 Top Flight Invitational for older fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Lucky Stride, trained by Michael Trombetta, enters off two stellar efforts in 2021, capturing the Wayward Lass on January 16 at Tampa Bay Downs and the Nellie Morse on February 20 at Laurel Park, both contested at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.
The daughter of Declaration of War was moved to Trombetta’s stable last summer after being campaigned in Puerto Rico, where she won 8-of-11 starts, including a Group 2 and Group 3 contest at Camarero. After making her United States debut with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Shuvee in August at Saratoga Race Course, Trombetta moved Lucky Stride to the turf, including a fourth-place effort beaten 2 ¼ lengths in the 12-furlong Zagora on October 31 at Belmont.
“When we got her here from Puerto Rico, we really did not know how her form would transfer over, so the Shuvee ended up being the deep end of the pool,” Trombetta said. “She had a troubled trip that day but ran fantastic. I think she’s done everything right for us since the first time.”
It wasn’t until her 2021 debut when she would notch her first United States victory when coming from 13 lengths off the pace as the odds-on favorite to capture the Wayward Lass in her 5-year-old bow. She carried her newfound winning form over to Laurel Park in Maryland, where she secured a tactical journey and gained command in mid-stretch, carrying her advantage to a 1 ¼-length Nellie Morse win.
“She’s done very well for us and we’ve been extremely pleased,” Trombetta said. “When we got her to Florida, she won the stake at Tampa. We didn’t seem to have many choices of where to go with her, so ultimately we decided on bringing her north early and fortunately, she was good enough to win the Nellie Morse.”
Lucky Stride has remained in Maryland since her last out score and is training forwardly for Trombetta at Fair Hill Training Center. She arrives at the Top Flight off three sharp bullet works, the most recent of which was a half-mile move in 48.20 seconds on April 3.
Bred in Kentucky by Aschinger Bloodstock Holdings, Lucky Stride boasts a consistent 17-10-4-1 record and purse earnings of $231,550.
Jockey Manny Franco will pilot Lucky Stride from post 4.
Last Saturday, trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. sent out the winners of two of the five graded stakes events on the Wood Memorial Day card at the Big A with Drain the Clock in the Grade 3 Bay Shore and Mischevious Alex in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. He will try to sustain momentum when sending out Ken Copenhaver’s Queen Nekia in pursuit of a second straight stakes victory.
The 6-year-old dark bay Harlington veteran was a 29-1 upset winner of the Grade 3 Royal Delta on February 20 at Gulfstream Park, where she secured a trip along the rail under Corey Lanerie en route to a 1 3/4-length win. Queen Nekia was third beaten three-quarters of a length in last year’s Royal Delta, which was her second start for Joseph, Jr.
“She’s a filly that stays pretty strongly,” Joseph, Jr. said. “The strong pace upfront helped her so it became a stamina race. Corey did a great job of keeping her on the rail. She ran a really good third in the Royal Delta the year prior, so it seems like a race she runs well in each year.”
Joseph claimed Queen Nekia for $25,000 in December 2019 after a six-length romp going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park, and she followed with a triumph at the next condition up en route to a third in the Royal Delta. Her first stakes triumph took place in the seven-furlong Dance To Bristol on August 28 at Charles Town. Prior to her last out win, she was fourth to stable mate Gibberish in the Treasure Chest on November 20 at Delta Downs.
“We claimed her for $25,000 and normally a filly for that kind of money doesn’t turn out the way she has,” Joseph, Jr said. “She’s a very tall, good looking filly and she tries each and every time. After she ran in Louisiana, we had the Royal Delta in mind since she ran so well the year before.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz will ride Queen Nekia from post 2.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott sends out three-time graded stakes winner Horologist for her first start since running ninth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 7 at Keeneland. The New Jersey-bred daughter of Gemologist won the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks in 2019 for former trainer John Mazza and nearly a year later won the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park -registering a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure in her first start for Mott.
Prior to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Horologist was a three-length winner of the Grade 2 Beldame on October 3 at Belmont Park over accomplished graded stakes winners Point of Honor and Dunbar Road.
Through a lifetime record of 20-7-2-4, Horologist boasts the highest bankroll in the field with earnings of $715,439.
Horologist breaks from post 5 and will be reunited with jockey Junior Alvarado.
Allen Stables’ Mrs. Danvers will be out for redemption following a distant fifth to Queen Nekia in the Grade 3 Royal Delta. The gray or roan Tapit 4-year-old was close to the pace in the 1 1/16-mile event but faded around the far turn.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a four-time Top Flight Invitational winner, saddled Mrs. Danvers to a victory in the Grade 3 Comely on November 27 at Aqueduct, where she led at every point of call to win by 6 ¼ lengths, recording a 102 Beyer.
A Kentucky homebred, Mrs. Danvers is out of the Awesome Again mare Gracie Square, who is a half-sister to prolific sire War Front as well as graded stakes-winners North Dakota, Teammate and Ecclesiastic.
Jockey Kendrick Carmouche will be aboard Mrs. Danvers from post 3.
Bass Stables’ Thankful was a distant seventh in the one-mile Heavenly Prize Invitational on March 6. The 4-year-old daughter of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will be seeing two turns for the first time since notching her first stakes victory in the Ladies Handicap on January 17 at Aqueduct, where she displayed tactical speed, battling in the upper stretch before taking control inside the sixteenth-pole for the win.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, a four-time winner of the Top Flight Invitational, Thankful broke her maiden at third asking going nine furlongs on August 20 at Saratoga Race Course before shortening up to a one-turn mile victory against winners on September 27 at Belmont.
Winter meet leading jockey Eric Cancel will ride Thankful from post 6.
Completing the field is Kasey K Racing and Michael Day’s Flashndynamite, who will try and build off a third-place finish in the last out Heavenly Prize Invitational. Trained by Michael Moore, the veteran Flashstorm mare earned her first trip to the Big A winner’s circle three starts back going a one-turn mile over stakes-placed Kansas Kis.
Jockey Trevor McCarthy rides Flashndynamite from post 1.
The Top Flight Invitational is named after C.V. Whitney’s dual champion and winner of prestigious races like the Acorn, Alabama, Spinaway and Coaching Club American Oaks and retired with a 16-12-0-0 record. Her accomplishments earned her Hall of Fame honors in 1966.
The Top Flight Invitational is slated as Race 5 on Aqueduct’s nine-race program. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
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