Off as the post-time favorite, Al Shaqab Racing’s Irish-bred Sandiva got up late to beat Sea Coast and front-running Isabella Sings to win Saturday’s Grade 3 Marshua’s River Stakes at Gulfstream Park for the second consecutive year. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano, the 6-year-old daughter of Footstepsinthesand covered 1 1/16 miles over a firm turf course in 1:39.56.
“She just needed a little freshening,” said Pletcher, who saddled three winners on the day. “She had a solid campaign and she seemed like she was just a touch off form and we knew that she loves Gulfstream. We kind of intentionally freshened her up with these races in mind.”
Sandiva was coming off a narrow loss in the South Beach Stakes Dec. 17 at Gulfstream, her first start since finishing unplaced in the G1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga in July. This was her eighth career win from 23 starts.
Isabella Sings, under jockey Edgard Zayas, was not quite as quick out of the starting gate as she normally is, but she was in front well before the first turn. She shot out to a three-length lead to speed through the first quarter in :23.17, tracked by Dickinson and Sea Coast. Sandiva was tucked in fourth behind those two, and continued stalking her stablemate’s pace through the half mile in :46.37. Isabella Sings drew her lead out to six lengths down the backstretch, traveling comfortably under Zayas, but Castellano’s patience aboard Sandiva would pay off.
Approaching the far turn, Castellano moved Sandiva three wide to pass Dickinson and draw alongside Sea Coast. Isabella Sings’ lead had shrunk to just two lengths at the top of the stretch, and when Sandiva switched to her right lead she pulled even with the leader easily. The two matched strides briefly in the lane, but Sandiva pulled away in the final sixteenth to win by a half length.Sea Coast edged Isabella Sings by a nose for second.
“She’s a very straightforward classy horse who improves every year,” Castellano said. “She never gets lazy. She does her own thing and enjoys herself. Todd [Pletcher] has done a phenomenal job bringing her back every single year. I liked the way she did it today. I had a perfect trip. It set up good because there was a lot of speed in the race. I was more patient today because I had her too close a little bit [before a second-place finish in the Dec. 17 South Beach]. I think that’s the reason she got beat. Today, patience paid off.”
Bred in Ireland by Denis McDonnell, Sandiva was a $ 28,000 yearling purchase. After beginning her career overseas and racking up several stakes victories, Sandiva was transferred to the United States in 2014. It took several starts for the mare to find her footing on the different turf courses, but she really lit up when she first raced over the Gulfstream lawn, and it has remained one of her favorite surfaces ever since. Overall, Sandiva boasts a record of eight wins from 23 starts, with earnings of over $ 750,000.
“She is booked [to be bred] to Mshawish this year,” Pletcher continued, “so we’ll get with team Al Shaqab to see if she will have one more run [in the Suwannee River Feb. 11] or go on to be bred.”
Correction: An early version of this article incorrectly had Isabella Sings finishing second.
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