ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- Older Illinois-bred fillies and mares were in the spotlight in today's featured race, the 35th running of the Isaac Murphy Handicap. The race, a $100,000 stakes race for state-bred fillies and mares ages three and up, was run at six furlongs over the Arlington polytrack. The race had a field of ten, including the entire trifecta from last year's edition: Kip Berries, Smiling Gambler, and Royal Posh. Algonquin Posse, who finished second behind Third Chance in the 2012 edition, also returned for another run at the title.
Stormin Elle, seventh in the Valley View Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland last fall, was the 3/1 morning line favourite. She was an even stronger choice in the early money: 4/5 with 24 minutes to post. Defending champion Kip Berries, despite this only being her second race since last year's win, was the second choice in that early money; she opened at 6/1. In the paddock, those were the two horses who most caught the eye. Stormin Elle looked extremely fit and alert, and Kip Berries had just the right amount of prance in her step in the walking ring before the post parade. They remained the top betting choices as post time neared. When the gates opened, Stormin Elle had settled down to 2/1, still the betting favourite. Kip Berries was the second choice at 9/2. Scarlet Power, fourth in the Third Chance Handicap at Hawthorne two starts ago, was the bettors' third choice at 5/1.
Kip Berries bolted to the lead early, and Algonquin Posse joined her on the front in the second furlong. A few lengths back chased Frabster and favourite Stormin Elle. As the field turned for home, Frabster moved off the rail, went three wide, and got around the leaders. Stormin Elle came around four wide there, and Dolly Peach was five wide. Frabster was moving best of those, though, and got ahead of the fading leaders in the final furlong. Fire Tricks, dead last turning for home, found her stride just past the three-sixteenths pole and had clear going in front of her on the far outside. In the meantime, Scarlet Power found room on the inside, and was flying up the rail. Frabster angled in toward the rail once she pulled ahead: and angled right into Scarlet Power's way. Scarlet Power checked hard at the sixteenth pole. Meanwhile, Fire Tricks was still flying down the middle of the track. Frabster prevailed by half a length, but Fire Tricks' late run was enough to put her a length ahead of Scarlet Power at the wire. Dolly Peach, who made the widest run through the far turn, finished a head behind Scarlet Power in fourth. Completing the order of finish were betting favourite Stormin Elle, Algonquin Posse, Royal Posh, Beeway, Smiling Gambler, and Kip Berries.
The inquiry sign went up shortly after the field crossed the wire; the stewards were looking into the stretch run. The objection sign went up shortly thereafter. Israel Ocampo, who rode Scarlet Power, lodged an objection against Frabster's rider Tim Thornton for interference in the stretch. Upon review the claim of foul was allowed, and Frabster was placed third, behind Scarlet Power. Fire Tricks, who had crossed the wire second, was placed first.
The 2014 Isaac Murphy Handicap was the first stakes win for Fire Tricks, a five-year-old mare by Hat Trick (JPN) out of the Favorite Trick mare Thunder Trick. She came into this race off of two straight disappointing outings: a fifth-place finish in allowance optional claiming company at Arlington last out, and a distant eighth in the Third Chance Handicap two starts ago. However, her three other starts this year were a win and two close seconds in allowance company at Hawthorne, suggesting some recent form to her backers. She had twice placed in stakes entering this race, having finished second in the 2012 Powerless Handicap at Hawthorne and third in the 2013 edition of the Powerless. Today's race was her first stakes triumph, and her sixth career win. This was also the first stakes win for Meryl Squires-Cannon, for whom the winner races as a homebred. Squires-Cannon also bred her dam, the unraced Thunder Trick.
Eduardo Perez, who rode the winning Fire Tricks, got the trip he wanted from his mount. "My filly ran hard. She was the only one to come from behind. I took my time and tried to save as much ground as I could. Then I took her outside and she made a big run. We got lucky today."
Jockey Israel Ocampo did not doubt that Scarlet Power would have finished better had it not been for Frabster's sharp move inside. "I had a perfect trip until the last sixteenth pole," Ocampo said. "When I hit the quarter pole, she was full of run and finishing pretty good, but unfortunately I had to check pretty hard. Otherwise, I probably would have got the job done. She's a really game filly."
Tim Thornton, rider of the disqualified Frabster, had no comment on his ride.
Fire Tricks returned $39.80 for every $2 win bet made by her backers. The $2 exacta with her over Scarlet Power paid $230.20. A $0.50 trifecta with Frabster in the lowest rung paid $372.70. The dime superfecta, with those three atop Dolly Peach, paid $650.41 for each $0.10 bet on the combination.
Photography is courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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