ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- If an allowance race had come up at Arlington Park for My Mertie, we might be calling Hotshot Anna a repeat winner in the Chicago Handicap. Instead, My Mertie swept four wide into the lane, unleashed a furious rally past the defending champion, and upset the Chicago Handicap (G3) at odds of 33/1.
"I have to give [part-owner] Terry Biondo most of the credit," remarked My Mertie's trainer and part-owner, Michele Boyce, after the race. "He kept telling me: Michele. We've got to nominate. We've got to nominate." Even after My Mertie was nominated to the race, Boyce kept her eyes out for an allowance spot. Still, none came up before the day came to enter the Chicago Handicap. "They had to lead me to the entry box with a lip chain," Boyce laughed.
Biondo wasn't the only one who thought My Mertie was primed to make an impact on Saturday. After riding My Mertie in her final work before the Chicago Handicap, jockey Carlos Marquez liked what he felt. Recalled Boyce, "Carlos came back, and he said, 'She will win the Chicago Handicap.' I told him he should probably sit down and put a cold towel on his head, because he wasn't making any sense at all."
Eight days after that final drill, his assessment made all the sense in the world.
From the starting bell, Student Body and Annathela battled on the lead. Hotshot Anna and Excessivespending tracked off the pace they set, with My Mertie contend to sit inside toward the rear through the early stages. As Student Body and Annathela continued to duel into the turn, Hotshot Anna kept them in their sights, sitting a stalking third. My Mertie, into the turn, was going well: not asked in earnest yet, but beginning to edge closer.
Near the five sixteenths, Student Body had had enough. Annathela inherited the lead, briefly, but almost immediately had Hotshot Anna bearing down on her outside. Behind them, as they turned for home, the closers were coming.
No one was coming better than My Mertie. As the lead change happened up front, the bay mare responded when jockey Carlos Marquez asked the question, swinging four wide into the lane, full of run. As Hotshot Anna took the lead from Annathela, My Mertie had dead aim on Hotshot Anna.
Hotshot Anna dug in, but with just over a sixteenth of a mile remaining, My Mertie had more. She kicked clear to win by a length and a quarter over Hotshot Anna. Heavenly Hill, who rallied on for third in upper stretch, chased on to finish another two and three quarters lengths back. Always Believe, who trailed early, rallied onto the scene late for fourth, another two and a half lengths behind. Excessivespending, Annathela, Babybluesbdancing, and Student Body completed the order of finish. Tough Irma was a stakes scratch.
My Mertie stopped the clock in 1:22.44 for seven furlongs over fast polytrack, and paid $69.40 to win. The $1 exacta over Hotshot Anna (2-3) paid $76.80 returned $76.80. The $0.50 trifecta with Heavenly Hill in third (2-3-4) came back with $250.18. The superfecta with Always Believe in the fourth rung (2-3-4-7) paid $411.98 for each dime base bet.
My Mertie is a seven-year-old bay mare, foaled in Illinois, out of the Doc's Leader mare Kate the Great. She was bred by Barr Three LLC, and is owned by Oak Rock Racing LLC (Margaret Burlingham), Terry Biondo, and Cherrywood Racing Stables II (Michele Boyce).
Though My Mertie is the first graded stakes winner out of her dam Kate the Great, her family has been a mainstay in classy Illinois races for years. The mare has produced three other stakes horses, all trained by Boyce. Her half-sister Katie the Lady (Lost Soldier) won the 2013 Illini Princess Handicap at Hawthorne. Her half-brother Super Solider (Lost Soldier) ran third in both the 2015 and 2017 editions of the Black Tie Affair Handicap, and her half-brother Blue Sky Kowboy (Kodiak Kowboy) ran second in the 2017 Hawthorne Derby. Blue Sky Kowboy, five years old this year, is entered to make his next start on Sunday, June 30 in the Arlington 3rd, an allowance-level turf route.
The Chicago Handicap was My Mertie's eighth victory in 31 career starts, and her second at the stakes level, as she also won the Third Chance Handicap at Hawthorne in 2017. The $58,200 winner's share of the purse brought My Mertie's career earnings to $295,729.
Though such a sharp step up to Grade 3 company may have come as a surprise, a strong run at Arlington at the age of seven was no shock. "She likes the track," Boyce said after the race. "She's a fresh horse. She's a sound horse. And, mine just seem to get better with age, like a fine wine. She got an excellent ride, and everything worked out."
And, as surprising as the win may have been? Given My Mertie's gate behavior through her career, Boyce thought an even bigger shock came seven furlongs before the finish. "For once, she went into the gate quite nicely, and didn't throw her temper tantrum. That was the biggest surprise."
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