Laughing fits in Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational
By John Scheinman | 09/26/2013 02:59 PM ET
Laughing almost didn't race this year, with nagging minor health issues keeping her away from the track and a Grade 3 victory on her resume that made her an attractive broodmare prospect.
Fate, however, had plans other than retirement for the 5-year-old daughter of Dansili, and now she ranks among the elite female turf runners in the country. With a 3-for-3 record so far in 2013, all in graded stakes, Laughing is no joke for the 37th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The prestigious turf race, 1 ¼ miles for fillies and mares, is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race for the Filly & Mare Turf.
"We always thought she had the talent, but she was never really 100 percent healthy or 100 percent happy; now she is," trainer Alan Goldberg said of Laughing, coupled in an entry with Tannery for the Flower Bowl.
The two, owned by Richard Santulli, are favored at 8-5 on the morning line.
Laughing, who is based at Colts Neck Stables in New Jersey, began to turn the corner when paired up with another horse, said Goldberg.
"We hooked her up with a filly named Funzionare, and we turn her out every day for two or three hours, and it seems to really have helped her," the trainer said. "She'll go out at 6:30 a.m. with the first set, train and then get cooled out and get turned out for 2 ½ hours. We were going to breed her this year, but they got to become friends. Funzionare gets the perks, too."
Laughing made her 2013 debut off an eight-month layoff June 29 at Monmouth Park. She came back running and knocked off Grade 1 winner Dayatthespa in the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap, scorching 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:39.26. Goldberg next placed Laughing in the Grade 1 Diana on July 27 at Saratoga Race Course, and she responded with the race of her life, defeating a stellar field by leading gate to wire under a smart ride by jockey Jose Lezcano.
Laughing then cut back from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles and again led every step to take the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa at Saratoga.
In the Flower Bowl, she will negotiate a distance she has tried only once, when seventh in the 2011 Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.
"She's doing real well," Goldberg said. "I think she'll get the trip. She's kind of bred to go that far, anyway."
Tannery, a 4-year-old, was fourth, beaten just 2 ¾ lengths, against the boys last time out in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on August 17 at Saratoga.
An Irish-bred by Dylan Thomas out of a Sadler's Wells mare, she has proven long-winded and capable, with a victory at 1 3/8 miles in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay in May at Belmont.
"I'm not crazy about it," Goldberg said of running Laughing and Tannery against each other. "I thought about running Tannery in the [Grade 1] Joe Hirsch [Turf Classic Invitational], but she wouldn't have gotten too much of a break in the weights."
Trainer Graham Motion has a formidable uncoupled entry with Qushchi, 3-1 on the morning line, and Valiant Girl, 12-1. Both come off quality victories, with Qushchi winning the 1 ½-mile Waya on August 5 at Saratoga, and Valiant Girl setting a course record at 1 3/8 miles on the grass at Monmouth Park when winning the Omnibus Stakes.
The two worked in company this week at the Fair Hill Training Center.
"They worked a half-mile on the steeplechase course," Motion said. "It's where I worked Animal Kingdom last year before the Breeders' Cup. It's grass, and it's a steady uphill climb for the last quarter of a mile."
Only two runners in the Flower Bowl field have victories at 1 ¼ miles on the turf - Mystical Star in the Grade 2 New York last year at Belmont Park, and White Rose in an optional claimer this past summer at Saratoga - and the wide-open nature of the race appeals to Motion.
"A lot of these fillies have done well, but the distance is a bit of an unknown for some of them, for sure," he said. "My fillies are a bit untested; I'd like to think they're on the improve. We were a little unlucky over the summer. I pointed them both for the Robert Dick Memorial [at Delaware Park] and it came off the grass and threw me off a little bit. But we went to the Omnibus [with Valiant Girl] and she set a track record. I don't know what a track record means at a mile and three-eighths at Monmouth, but she ran really good."
Christophe Clement trains Mystical Star, 4-1 on the morning line, who comes into the Flower Bowl off a course record in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon at 1 5/16 miles on September 7. She was third in the Waya to Qushchi.
"Running back very quickly, but she's trained well, she looks great," Clement said. "We have not breezed her since the last race, thinking that she's very fit. The idea was to run a bit farther down the road, like in the Spinster [at Keeneland], a race later on, but this is a Grade 1, it's Belmont, we're based here, stabled here, so let's go and see what happens."
Kissable (5-1), Somali Lemonade (8-1), and White Rose (15-1) complete the field.
The field for the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational:
a - coupled entry