Eleven years after Powerscourt was disqualified for interference in the 2004 Arlington Million (G1), jockey Jamie Spencer was involved in another disqualification at Arlington on Saturday, as Secret Gesture was demoted to third in the $700,000 Beverly D (G1). By drifting into the path of Stephanie’s Kitten in the final yards, the English shipper caused her to steady. Rallying for second across the wire was Stephanie’s Kitten’s stablemate from the Chad Brown barn, the 8-1 Watsdachances, who was thereby handed the win in the stewards’ room.
The disqualification was costlier than just the winner’s share of the purse. With the Beverly D. being a “Win & You’re In,” a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) was at stake. And for broodmare value, the elusive Grade 1 rosette is even more coveted.
Secret Gesture was deserving of that laurel. Runner-up in the 2013 Epsom Oaks (G1) and German Oaks (G1), third in the 2013 Yorkshire Oaks (G1) and 2014 Prix Jean Romanet (G1), fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and most recently fourth in the Pretty Polly (G1), the Ralph Beckett trainee has been performing honorably at this level. She was due for one, but where would the breakthrough happen? This trip — 9 1/2 furlongs — on firm ground seemed a tough task against defending champion Euro Charline and fellow Euro shippers Carla Bianca and Wedding Vow.
But when the clouds opened up over Arlington, and rain pelted the course, it appeared that things might have been conspiring in Secret Gesture’s favor. Not only was the deteriorating turf to her liking, but it blunted the weapons of her leading rivals. And it turned the Beverly D. into more of a slog, which suited her best of all.
Then the race unfolded, and as Watsdachances’ rider Joe Bravo aptly summed up the outcome: “You can’t make this game up.”
For the first nine furlongs, Spencer gave Secret Gesture a perfect ride. She stalked in second as Euro Charline, the 5-2 favorite, unexpectedly set up shop on the front end through splits of :47.67 and 1:13.04 on the yielding course. Stephanie’s Kitten was rating well back in sixth, while Watsdachances was near the back in eighth.
Secret Gesture went after Euro Charline at the top of the stretch, and gradually wore down the stubborn leader. As the 6-1 chance edged clear, she looked on the verge of grasping that Grade 1 prize for her owners, Qatar Racing Ltd. and Newsells Park Stud. They had kept her in training for this five-year-old campaign precisely in hopes of accomplishing this mission, and she had it in her grasp.
But then Secret Gesture began wandering out under left-handed urging. Spencer switched the whip to his right hand, but her starboard drift continued. At the same time, Stephanie’s Kitten was rallying — not fast enough to catch the winner, but enough to bag the runner-up spot. But her jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., had to tap on the brakes to avert a collision with Secret Gesture.
In those decisive final yards, Watsdachances was gaining quickly to Secret Gesture’s inside. While she was never going to get there in time, she did thrust her neck in front of the hampered Stephanie’s Kitten at the wire.
Secret Gesture was clearly best on the day, by 1 1/4 lengths, in a final time of 1:57.36. But the stewards posted the inquiry sign, and Ortiz claimed foul. If Stephanie’s Kitten had held second, Secret Gesture would probably have kept the victory. The late thrust of Watsdachances, however, likely tilted the decision toward disqualification. Without the interference, Stephanie’s Kitten would have been second. And for costing her foe a better placing, Secret Gesture had to pay the penalty.
Although one grand servant was hurt by the outcome, it rewarded another genuine, honest customer in Watsdachances, who hasn’t had as many Grade 1 opportunities. In her only three prior attempts at this level, she was second to future French 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine Flotilla in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and a rallying fourth off risible paces in both the 2013 Garden City (G1) and 2014 Flower Bowl Invitational (G1).
Watsdachances’ four prior stakes victories had come in the 2012 Miss Grillo (G3) and P.G. Johnson, the 2013 Summer Secretary at Aqueduct and the May 16 Gallorette (G3) in her reappearance. The five-year-old mare was subsequently an unlucky second in the July 5 Dance Smartly (G2) at Woodbine, where she missed by a head after being left with too much to do.
Owned by Michael E. Kisber, Bradley Thoroughbreds and Nelson McMakin, Watsdachances is now a millionaire with $1,146,300 in earnings from her 18-6-5-3 line.
As far as Breeders’ Cup implications go, you’d have to tread cautiously with the result. Conditions plainly didn’t suit some, and it’s no accident that the top three are all adept on this ground. But it’s also worth remembering who wasn’t here (i.e., Hard Not to Like).
Joe Bravo (jockey, Watsdachances): “You can’t make this game up: with the rainstorm we got, and they had her ready to run and she just loved the distance.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. (jockey, Stephanie’s Kitten): “The winner (Secret Gesture, DQ’ed to third) kept coming out and it definitely cost me second.”
Jamie Spencer (jockey, Secret Gesture): Refused comment.
Jose Lezcano (jockey, Euro Charline, fourth): “My filly really broke sharp and never relaxed she just pulled me the whole way and when the other came I tried to give her a kick but she was just too tired.”
Colm O’Donoghue (jockey, Wedding Vow, fifth): “She gave me a great one and she’s too good of a mover. The ground was too soft. Too deep.”
Patrick Smullen (jockey, Carla Bianca, sixth): “This filly likes it very fast and she couldn’t get any traction at all. It’s just deep and she wants fast ground. We had lovely position behind the winner and I knew between the two turns I was in trouble.”
Photo courtesy of Four Footed Fotos: Secret Gesture in front, Watsdachances on the inside, Stephanie’s Kitten outside.