Catching My Eye: DeVaux scores Haskell undercard upset, Saratoga nail-biter
Something happened on Saturday that brought me out of the wave of races I was watching and into the moment. It felt significant, and a sign of big things to come.
On Saturday over a 20-minute span, Cherie DeVaux sent out two upset winners in as exciting of races as you can find, as Shotgun Hottie took the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher S. on the Haskell undercard at Monmouth and Taking Candy nosed out two fellow three-year-old flyers in a salty first-level allowance across Saratoga’s inner turf.
The $500,000 Grade 3 Molly Pitcher S.
Handicapping the Molly Pitcher, there was no doubt that with value in mind Shotgun Hottie seemed like a sneaky play. Her journey has been through a few different barns and though she had often knocked on the graded stakes door, it still remained shut.
As a freshman in Tom Amoss’ barn, I first saw Shotgun Hottie race in the Untapable, an end-of-the-year Kentucky Oaks points race on Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds, where she surprised me by taking the lead before getting passed late for fourth. Being transferred to Bill Morey’s barn, Shotgun Hottie had a solid Oaks run, finishing third in the Gazelle (G3) and grabbing place honors in both the Delaware Oaks (G3) and the Monmouth Oaks (G3). She showed a level of form that absolutely is competitive at the graded stakes level.
It wasn't until turning four that she joined DeVaux. With a fine effort against lesser, followed by a return to her best three-year-old form in two solid performances against seemingly better, Shotgun Hottie won her prior race in similar fashion to her run in the Untapable, gunning for the lead.
Had this Gun Runner filly out of the unraced Malibu Moon mare Re Entry progressed in DeVaux’s care? Earning a 100 Brisnet Speed figure for her effort in the Molly Pitcher — four points higher than her previous best — the resounding answer is yes. Shotgun Hottie is on the scene.
The Molly Pitcher headliner was the multiple grades stakes winner Search Results, trained by Chad Brown, highly-regarded and bet down to odds-on favoritism. True to many recent stakes, Brown had another in the field with Distinctlypossible, a seemingly sneaky filly on the rise.
Also, we had the stakes debut for the half-sister to Maxfield, Loved, who had been as impressive as any newcomer on the Kentucky scene this spring. Add to the mix the Ohio Derby undercard stakes winner Le Da Vida, Misty Veil, and a Shug McGaughey-trained mare in First to Act.
The big question was where in this salty group did the often-a-bridesmaid-rarely-a-bride Shotgun Hottie fit? Well, she beat the field like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At 8-1, she was last from the gates, breaking out, and had to settle in the back… wait, no she’s not dropping to the rail to save ground?!
Paco Lopez let her run free, his elbows tucked in as she followed up her last-out wire-to-wire win with an aggressive keen trip four-wide in the first turn and advancing, stalking five-wide in the backstretch and losing just as much ground vying for the lead in the far turn. After Search Results put Loved to bed in the stretch, Shotgun Hottie snarled at her throat latch and simply proved to be best, putting her away while holding off Le Da Vida’s furious late kick.
This was a monster effort when you consider the trip; I have no doubt Shotgun Hottie isn't just a one-night fling.
Saratoga Race 8: $62,000 Optional Claiming n1x
The very next race I watched — pow! DeVaux’s Taking Candy nosed out Scramble and Mercante across the inner turf finish line at Saratoga.
With Jose Lezcano up, the 8-1 morning line shot drifted up from there. The bettors just couldn’t get enough of Chad Brown’s coupled entry. I’m an unapologetic lover of underdogs and longshots, and anytime I can see four horses trained by Chad Brown get beat out of the exacta in two races in a 20-minute span, I’m uplifted.
After kicking off his career on the turf at Saratoga last year but unable to get it done, Taking Candy moved forward nicely to win his sophomore debut at Churchill Downs. Coming back at Ellis facing older winners, he lost by two lengths as the favorite. This New York-bred returned home, though not against state-bred company, and received little fanfare at the windows, going off at 12.80-1.
Going long on turf is this son of Twirling Candy’s game. Taking Candy saved every inch, got a heads-up ride by Lezcano, and won by a nose. The runners he beat out of the winner’s circle received equally fantastic trips, something to consider when it comes time to back or fade this runner in his next outing. This was a big effort, a move forward, and the bookend of a phenomenal day for Cherie DeVaux.
A Big Week
Last Sunday, it was DeVaux’s first-time starter Feeling Pretty getting it done with a huge late run going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf at Ellis Park. Throw in Mercy Warren’s blitz to the lead over the weekend at Ellis and you have a barn that grabbed four wins in seven starts with a $9.09 ROI. Over the past two years, DeVaux has sent 461 runners into the starting gates, winning with 85 (18%). If you bet each one blindly, you’d be looking at a $1.99 ROI.
In her barn’s fifth year, she has already surpassed her 2021 earnings and is only a Kentucky purse away from surpassing her 2022 total. Bravo Ms. DeVaux.