ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — Jockey Drayden Van Dyke first won a race less than a year ago, closing from far back to get Money Clip home in a maiden special weight at Hollywood Park on November 21 of last year. Money Clip was trained by Tom Proctor, for whom Van Dyke had worked mucking stalls and walking hots. Gary Stevens had originally been named to that mount, but Van Dyke picked it up the morning of the race. Less than a year later, Van Dyke hardly needs a last-minute pick-up to get a live mount. Still an apprentice, he has not merely held his own on the California circuit. He has already won a riding title, at the Los Alamitos summer Thoroughbred meet. Van Dyke came out to Arlington Park earlier this summer for Million Preview Day, winning an allowance race with Proctor trainee Myositis Dan. He had come a neck short of his first graded stakes win later that day, when Proctor runner Gulsary fell a neck short of catching I’m Already Sexy in the Modesty Handicap (GIII).
Today, Van Dyke travelled back to Arlington to ride Sistas Stroll, one of two horses Tom Proctor entered in the Pucker Up Stakes (GIII). The other was V V Goodnight. Van Dyke had ridden V V Goodnight in a classy allowance on the Million Preview Day undercard, but today it was Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith who shipped to ride her. The field for this nine-furlong, $150,000 grass event for three-year-old fillies also contained the winners of both divisions of the Hatoof Stakes, Annulment and Kiss Moon, as well as Maria Maria (second behind Kiss Moon in Division Two). Aurelia’s Belle and Stellaris, 1-2 in the Arlington Oaks in July, joined the fray. Rounding out the field were the lightly raced Final Redemption, who had been second in the Tenski Stakes at Saratoga, as well as Arlington maiden winner Ameliatheaviator, who made her stakes debut after having scratched from the Hatoof Stakes Division 1.
The early money went hard on Saratoga shipper, Final Redemption. The 6/1 third choice on the morning line, she opened at 2/1. V V Goodnight (7/2) and Sistas Stroll (9/2) also attracted significant portions of the early money. Morning line favourite Aurelia’s Belle opened up at just 6/1, and morning line second choice Stellaris hovered between 5/1 and 6/1 early. In the paddock, Sistas Stroll was a handful as she walked around, fighting her walker and just barely calming down enough to let jockey Drayden Van Dyke climb aboard. Ameliatheaviator, the longest shot on the board, made a much more poised impression. As post time arrived, the odds began to settle down on the favourites, and drift up on the Proctor pair. Though Final Redemption went off the slight 5/2 favourite, Aurelia’s Belle was 3/1 by post time, and Stellaris 4/1. The top two in the early money only went off as the public’s fifth and sixth choices.
Favourite Final Redemption, breaking along the rail, settled into the early lead. Annulment, Kiss Moon, and Aurelia’s Belle followed most closely, though all three spun wide through that turn. Sistas Stroll, despite breaking from the 7 gate, tucked in along the rail and started saving ground about three lengths off the pace. Final Redemption ticked off slow early fractions over the soft turf: the quarter in 24.29, the half in 50.36. Coming into the far turn she still had a length on the field, but her lead fast diminished. Sistas Stroll had angled off the rail, and both she and Annulment tried to run around Final Redemption. The Hatoof Division 1 winner emptied out almost immediately, but the California shipper had more than enough gas in the tank. Sistas Stroll caught up with Final Redemption passing the three-sixteenths pole, and pulled away in the final furlong. V V Goodnight, who had been near the rear early due to a poor break, had started to roll through the far turn. She passed Stellaris on the outside, and angled in front of her to take the rail entering the stretch. Moving well in the final furlong, she was able to maneuver outside of Final Redemption to pass, but could only get within a length and a half of stablemate Sistas Stroll. Maria Maria, midpack for much of the race, was moving well on the outside late; she got within three and a half lengths of the front, good enough for third. Pacesetter Final Redemption settled for fourth. Aurelia’s Belle, Ameliatheaviator, Stellaris, Annulment, and Kiss Moon completed the order of finish. James Graham aboard Stellaris made a jockey’s claim of foul against Mike Smith, rider of Stellaris; it alleged interference approaching the top of the stretch. Stewards disallowed the claim, keeping V V Goodnight in second.
Sistas Stroll is a three-year-old filly by Stroll out of the Bernstein mare Berncredit. She is owned by Five Fillies Stable (Brett and Billie Jo Setzer), and trained by Tom Proctor. She was racing for just her fourth time, and for the first time in stakes company. She finished third place in her debut, a dirt sprint at Tampa Bay Downs in March, but has blossomed in grassy routes. She returned in June to win a maiden special weight at a mile and a sixteenth over the Churchill Downs grass, and then followed that up with a first-level allowance win over the Del Mar grass at the same nine-furlong distance as the Pucker Up. Though he has ridden frequently for trainer Tom Proctor since late last year, this was the first time that jockey Drayden Van Dyke had gotten the call aboard the winner.
Van Dyke had both a good trip and a good horse with Sistas Stroll. “It worked out really well for me. I saved ground the whole way. I just had one horse [Final Redemption] in front of me. She kind of came down on the rail and I just went by her. She really finished well.”
Mike Smith rode second-place finisher V V Goodnight. About his ride, he noted, “I was hoping to be right behind the winner. She missed the break and threw her head. It would have been closer — I’m not sure if I would have beaten her, but it would have been closer.” In response to the objection lodged against him by James Graham (rider of seventh-place Stellaris), he remarked, “I understand why they would claim it – but I was the same place from the three-eighths pole to where the incident happened; I hadn’t moved. They moved on me; I didn’t have much choice. I couldn’t get out and [Graham] wasn’t really getting there — he was driving to stay there — and I don’t think it affected the outcome at all.”
Trainer Tom Proctor, who conditions both Sistas Stroll and V V Goodnight, was terse yet pleased. “Both of them are nice fillies,” he remarked. “They both ran like they’ve been running. I liked the finish.”
Emmanuel Esquivel, rider of 21/1 longshot Maria Maria, praised his third-place finisher. “My filly tried so hard down the stretch,” said Esquivel. “She acted like she was going to go, trying hard the whole way around. The turf is really soft, not too good. All I can say is she ran really hard and never quit.”
Edgar Prado rode beaten favourite Final Redemption, and cited that soggy going as a reason why his filly did not stay the distance. “She broke great and relaxed nice and beautifully on the backside,” recalled Prado. “When I asked her to go she responded. She got a little tired at the end and the grown was very heavy going, and I don’t think she was too crazy about that.”
Winning jockey Drayden Van Dyke had won his first career stakes race just last month, piloting 28/1 longshot Ann of the Dance to the Del Mar winners’ circle in the CTT and Thoroughbred Owners of California Handicap on August 22. He had been riding in graded stakes at various points through the year, but this was his first victory at a graded level. Van Dyke remarked that today’s Pucker Up win “is a big deal for me. It’s my first graded win. Of course Tom [Proctor] means everything for me. He’s given me so many great opportunities. I just want to thank him.”
Sistas Stroll stopped the clock in 1:55.13, over turf rated soft. She paid her backers $17.20 to win. The exacta with V V Goodnight on the lower rung returned $93.20 for each $2 base bet. A $0.50 trifecta with Maria Maria below the Proctor pair paid $279.70. The superfecta with Final Redemption slotted in fourth returned $475.44 for each dime wagered on the combination.
Photography courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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