by Ted Black
Anyone expecting the typical winner’s circle scene following Saturday evening’s Sugar Maple Stakes for older fillies and mares at Charles Town — smiles and hugs all around — found something else altogether.
Trainer Crystal Pickett clutched the Sugar Maple plaque in one hand and wiped the tears from her eyes with the other.
“I called my dad before the race and told him I wanted her to win this race for him,” Pickett said. Her father has been in poor health lately and was unable to attend.
“He just told me good luck and then she went out and won it. I called him right after the race as I started walking to the winner’s circle. I’m so happy, but mainly for my dad.”
The emotional victory was the result in large part of a change in tactics. For most of her career, Flattering Bea had been a deep closer, a style which had allowed her to bank over $170,000 but had led to four second-place finishes in her last seven starts.
On Saturday, Pickett wanted something else: speed from the gate.
“In some of those other stakes she had been so far behind early, she never really had a chance,” Pickett said. “She was 15 lengths back in the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico last year and came running late to get beat just a nose. She’s shown speed in the past and last week she worked a fast half-mile [in 48 seconds] at Pimlico and that probably helped sharpen her up for this race.”
Soon after the gate opened in the $200,000, seven furlong event, Flattering Bea broke well and was pushed forward by jockey Garry Cruise and raced just off longshot leader Wardelle, who had won a minor stake over the track last fall. Favored Quiet Success did not break sharply and was in tight behind horses heading into the first turn; that hint of trouble perhaps took her out of her element.
Wardelle led the field down the backside, but Flattering Bea surged to command entering the far turn and then prepared for an immediate challenge from Quiet Success. Meanwhile, More Than A Cruise unleashed her late kick after trailing the field through the first half-mile.
Flattering Bea, Quiet Success and then More Than A Cruise raced three across the track in the final 100 yards and Flattering Bea outlasted them both for a neck score in 1:26 flat for the seven panels. It was the fifth win in 14 starts for the four-year-old Flatter filly and the lofty winner’s share pushed her career earnings to nearly $300,000 for owner/breeder James Arrison. She has now won four of her five tries at Charles Town.
More than that, it also gave her connections a chance to dream of further stakes glory. They have already mapped out a potential campaign for the homebred.
Last year’s Sugar Maple heroine, Dance to Bristol, followed her local romp with victories in the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico, the Grade III Bed O’Roses at Belmont Park, the Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga and the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga.
Arrison and Pickett were paying attention.
“Our next stop is the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico the day before the Preakness,” Pickett said. “Then maybe we’ll go to New York for a stakes race there, maybe to Saratoga.”
“We want to be the next Dance to Bristol,” Arrison said. “It would be great if we could follow her path. It was so exciting seeing this filly win. Crystal’s done such a great job with her. When she made the lead going into the far turn, I knew she would be tough. But when the favorite came to her on the turn, I was nervous. You have to be nervous anytime a horse trained by Tom Amoss comes after you. But Bea just dug in and wouldn’t let those other two fillies go by her.”
It was the second start of the season for Flattering Bea, who ran second as the favorite in an open allowance at Mountaineer in March.
“Really, all the credit goes to the owner,” Pickett said. “She had a great three-year-old season [winning twice in six starts and earning nearly $100,000] and we thought she could really be a nice four-year-old. We stopped with her after she ran second in that [Safely Kept] stakes down at Laurel last fall and decided to give her some time off and let her come back fresh this year. So far, she’s done better than we expected and it’s really because of his patience.”
If patience is rewarded, it should be a fun season for Arrison, Pickett, and their four year-old filly by Flatter out of the stakes-placed Wild Rush mare Wild Bea.
“It was just incredible to watch her run this well tonight,” Arrison said. “She’s going to be really good this year. We’re hoping we can win a few more stakes and get a chance to race in New York, especially Saratoga. We’ll go wherever she takes us and wherever Crystal thinks she belongs.”
(Featured image by Coady Photography.)