Shimmering Aspen follows rainbow to Alma North victory
by Frank Vespe
A sudden rainstorm blew through Laurel Saturday, arriving following the eighth race at Laurel Park and departing prior to the ninth.
It turned a hot day into a “you just put on a wet sweater in the middle of August” day. And it brought a rainbow spanning across the sky above the old track.
“When the rain stopped and the rainbow came out, it was right over barn nine,” said Ellen Charles in the moments following the ninth race, the $75,000 Alma North Stakes for three-year-old fillies.
Charles took it as a sign — and who can blame her? Rodney Jenkins trains Charles’s horses — not coincidentally — out of barn nine.
And today, Shimmering Aspen, running in the brown and white colors of Charles’s Hillwood Stable LLC, delivered perhaps the sunniest performance of her career, running a solid field of sophomores off their feet en route to a 5 3/4-length victory in 1:23.12 for seven furlongs over a good, sealed main track.
The win was the first in stakes company for Shimmering Aspen, who now has won four of six career starts. The winner’s share pushed her career earnings past $120,000.
The win was also the first stakes win for jockey Steve Hamilton since his return to race-riding last year following a 10-year hiatus. His prior stakes win came in October 2006 aboard Ah Day, trained by King Leatherbury.
“Oh man, it feels great, you know,” Hamilton said afterwards. “A win’s a win, but a stake race with a filly like that with the connections of Ms. Charles and Mr. Jenkins, it couldn’t be any better.”
Hamilton and Shimmering Aspen were on the move early in today’s event, pressing the swift early pace of Crabcakes, one of four stakes winners in a field that, after three scratches, numbered seven runners. Those two raced a half-length apart, Crabcakes along the rail and Shimmering Aspen glued to her flank, through a quarter mile in 22.62 seconds. The half went in 45.37.
Midway round the turn, Shimmering Aspen got the better of that rival, turned for home with the lead, and widened throughout the stretch, finally finishing nearly six clear of Crabcakes, who held second. Follow No One was along late for third.
“I’ve always had confidence in her because she is a really good filly,” Charles said. “Today she was back in true form.”
Bettors expected no less. They made her the slight 1.70-1 favorite in the field, just choosing her over Yellow Agate, who finished fourth. Yellow Agate, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park, had not run since coming in 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last November and had no answers here today, either.
Yet there were questions that Shimmering Aspen, a Malibu Moon filly, had to answer. In her prior start, in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes over Preakness weekend at Pimlico, she had finished seventh after leading into the stretch over a sloppy, sealed main track.
Was it the distance? The track condition? Or perhaps she simply wasn’t that quality?
“It was a whole lot of things that stacked against her that day,” Jenkins said, while hastening to add that he wasn’t making excuses. “The inside was at least six inches deeper than anywhere else on the racetrack.”
Today, she put the quality question to rest, getting involved from the very first jump and never giving her rivals any reason to hope.
“It was good to see [the Black-Eyed Susan] didn’t do anything to her heart,” Jenkins said. “A lot of times with these fillies, you do something with them that they don’t really want to do, they’ll lose it for a little while.”
Indeed, she’s now won her four races by a combined 22 lengths. The downpour of Black-Eyed Susan day seems a distant memory. The rainbow beckons.
“We want to go somewhere… bigger,” Jenkins said. “This filly’s been bred really well, she has a lot of pedigree. If we could win a graded stake, her value would be through the roof. And she’s a beautiful filly.”