The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is a baby, compared to the BC races that have been run since 1984, the year of the event’s inception. This year, the race is three years old…just like one of the fillies that will be contesting it.
Rose Catherine is one of two three-year-olds in the race; the other is Bridgetown, a colt. She’s one of four females pre-entered, along with five-year-old Canadian Ballet, four-year-old Unzip Me, and five-year-old Waveline.
And not long ago, Rose Catherine’s age and sex gave trainer Todd Pletcher pause about bringing his filly back to the Breeders’ Cup, where she was second in last year’s Juvenile Filly Turf.
A daughter of Speightstown, Rose Catherine began her career on dirt. “You always want to start on dirt if they’re training good on the dirt,” said her owner, Paul Pompa. “There’s more money in dirt, and she was training so good on the dirt, but in her dirt races, she just didn’t perform good. It was a natural move to make – with Gone West in her pedigree, there’s a lot of grass there – and she just took off.”
The filly was beaten by a combined 22 ½ lengths in two starts on dirt as a two-year-old, but when she hit the turf at Belmont last October, she went wire to wire in a romp that she won by nearly nine lengths.
“We were so impressed by that win,” said Pompa. “She did it so good, and her numbers came back so big, that Todd and I talked a few days later and made the decision to run her in the Breeders’ Cup.”
Following her second place finish in Juvenile Filly Turf, Pompa and Pletcher kept Rose Catherine in California, running her in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet over the Cushion track at Hollywood Park, at a mile and a sixteenth. After two impressive performances on the grass, Rose Catherine finished sixth by more than 20 lengths, in a race won by Blind Luck.
“It wasn’t that she didn’t like the synthetics,” said Pompa. “It was the distance. We saw that she was quick, but she didn’t want two turns.”
Back on the turf at six and a half furlongs, Rose Catherine won the Sweet Life at Santa Anita, before finishing third when stretching out to a mile in the G3 Appalachian over the turf course at Keeneland.
“It was process of elimination at that point,” said Pompa. “There was no real reason for her to have given it up in that race after being on the lead. She had some distance limitations, and we decided then to set this course: on the grass, going short.”
And that seems to have been the right decision: Rose Catherine is undefeated in four starts since then, all on the grass, none longer than five and a half furlongs.
Following her win at Saratoga in the Lena Spencer in September, Pletcher expressed reservation about bringing Rose Catherine back to the Breeders’ Cup. “She’d have to face older horses, and she’d have to face males. That’s a tall order for a three-year-old filly,” he said at his Saratoga barn over Labor Day weekend. Less than a month later, his filly changed his mind.
Taking on older fillies for the second time her career – she’d beaten them in an allowance at Monmouth in June – Rose Catherine strode to a confident win in the Turf Amazon at Parx, winning by nearly two lengths, and that race punched her ticket to Churchill. Immediately afterward, Pletcher assistant Jonathan Thomas said that “it wouldn’t take a lot of convincing” for her to go to the Breeders’ Cup, an opinion Pletcher confirmed last month at his Belmont barn.
“She took on older and she won,” he said, indicating that she’d be Kentucky-bound.
“That was a monster race for her,” asserted Pompa. “She’s regarded as the top filly sprinter in grass in the country right now, and she’s got nothing else to prove except to take a shot and run against the boys.
“She’s got tactical speed and can sit off the pace, and she’s getting a nice weight allowance. We know what she can do against fillies: this is an aggressive move, but not crazy aggressive. She belongs there, and she’ll probably be about 8-1.”
The favorite in eight of eleven starts, and odds-on in her last six, Rose Catherine put her in her final work yesterday morning; said Pletcher in a Churchill Downs press release, “She’s a superior work horse and would work as fast as a horse could possibly work if you allowed her to…I thought she worked very well. Sometimes you have to be a little careful with her or she will do way too much.”
Rose Catherine seems an unlikely name for a filly by Speightstown out of Great Plains Lady, and Pompa revealed that his speedy little filly is named for his mother. “My mother got sick just as we were getting her, and I’m very close to my mother. She got to see her namesake run in person, and she was in the winner’s circle picture with us when the filly won the Mongo Queen at Monmouth in July.”
Rose Catherine will have her work cut out for her next Saturday: she’s never raced against males, and she’s taking on some seasoned veterans of both sexes. But you’ve got a chance to catch her at generous odds, and with a nice Italian mother in Brooklyn rooting for this filly who is as sweet in her stall as she is speedy on the racetrack, another Brooklyn Italian will be rooting for her namesake.
Check out Eric Wing’s and Randy Moss’s handicapping video segment of the Turf Sprint on Breeders’ Cup 360; Rose Catherine features prominently.