STICKNEY-CICERO, IL — Three months ago Bramble Queen was supposed to visit Chicago for the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, July 20 at Arlington. The Illini Princess Handicap — which Bramble Queen closed smartly to win by a length and a quarter today at Hawthorne — wasn’t even on the calendar.
The midsummer heat wave that descended on the east coast ended any plans to send Bramble Queen to the Spellman. “I couldn’t ship her, with all that heat,” trainer Michael Dini remembered. “We were hot out there, and it’s just not right for the horse.” Instead, Bramble Queen stayed east, did not race in July, and instead raced at Monmouth, Saratoga, and Belmont through August and September. Though she did not win any of those three starts, she came close with a third-place finish in a second-level allowance turf mile at Monmouth on August 9, and a second-place finish beaten only a nose in a $40,000 starter allowance turf mile at Saratoga on August 30.
A few weeks ago, the Illini Princess made it onto Dini’s radar. At first owner Alan Lustig, who races as Ballybrit Stable LLC, wasn’t sure whether Bramble Queen should make the trip, but Dini was confident that it would be a good move for several reasons. “I said, you own the mare. It’s a stake. She should be competitive coming out of Saratoga. I’ve got two little sisters to her. And, she’s ready.” Lustig agreed to Bramble Queen running in the Illini Princess. “He’s a great owner,” said Dini.
Though Bramble Queen’s racing season may not have always unfolded according to plan, the Illini Princess unfolded just as Dini envisioned before the race. “I told C. H. [jockey Carlos Marquez, Jr.], whenever she’s too close early, she doesn’t finish. Make one move when you’re ready.”
As usual Kool Kate popped sharply out of the gate, keen to the lead. In the opening strides she cut inward, bumping Lovely Loyree into Gwendalyn Sue and eventually clearing in front of that stalking pair. Bramble Queen, who had drawn between Lovely Loyree and Gwendalyn Sue, was happy to settle well off the pace and lope along; she was already behind the stalking flight, out of Kool Kate’s way.
Into the backstretch Kool Kate began to toss her head, but continued to set comfortable fractions: 23.99 for the quarter, 48.33 for the half. Lovely Loyree continued patiently, two wide in the stalking flight, until being shaken up into the far turn. She encroached on Kool Kate; Kool Kate kept going to her inside.
Meanwhile, Bramble Queen was sitting third from the rear, about a dozen lengths off the pace, awaiting her moment to strike.
Nearing the half mile pole, Bramble Queen was ready. She shifted outside of Chrome Attack and comfortably gained ground through the bend. Easily she drew closer to the front group, swung three wide into the lane, and had Kool Kate and Lovely Loyree in her sights.
Into the lane Lovely Loyree tried doggedly; Kool Kate stayed on. Bramble Queen, going best of all, advanced with every jump. Past the sixteenth pole she caught Kool Kate and came clear to win by a length and a quarter, stopping the timer in 1:43.26 for a mile and a sixteenth over firm turf. Lovely Loyree, tired but digging in to the wire, crossed the wire another two lengths behind Kool Kate, but still a nose in front of Embarrassing. Launch Away, Applique, Gwendalyn Sue, and Chrome Attack completed the order of finish.
Soon after the finish, all eyes were back on the start of the race. The inquiry lamp lit, along with the objection light. Jockey Chris Emigh, riding Lovely Loyree, claimed foul against Edgar Perez on Kool Kate, alleging interference coming out of the gate; the stewards’ inquiry involved the same stage of the race. Upon review, stewards disqualified Kool Kate for interfering with Lovely Loyree, placing Kool Kate third.
Bramble Queen paid $6.40 to win. The $1 exacta over Lovely Loyree (5-6) returned $11.90. A trifecta with Kool Kate third (5-6-8) came back with $18.25 for each $0.50 base bet. The $0.20 superfecta with Embarrassing in fourth (5-6-8-3) paid $14.94.
Bramble Queen is a four-year-old dark bay or brown Illinois-foaled filly by Silent Name out of the Empire Maker mare Regal Rose. She races as a homebred in the lime green and black silks of Alan Lustig’s Ballybrit Stable. Her victory in the Illini Princess was the seventh win in her 23-race career, and her first in stakes company; the $33,030 winner’s share of the purse brought her career earnings up to $199,995.
The Illini Princess Handicap ends Bramble Queen’s four-year-old campaign. “Now, she goes for a vacation until next year,” said Dini. “Hopefully we’ll make it to Arlington when they have the stakes.”
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