“No excuses” as Miss Temple City third in Matchmaker
by Frank Vespe
In 2016, there weren’t too many distaff turf runners better than Miss Temple City. The Graham Motion trainee won three Grade 1 events, missed another by a neck, and was beaten just less than three lengths by males (and the great Tepin) in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
But that was then, and this is now, and the five-year-old Temple City mare entered today’s Grade 3 Matchmaker looking for a touch of redemption after her season opener, at Royal Ascot, produced a 15-length defeat.
“No pressure, right?” Motion had joked earlier in the week.
He’d been referring to the Grade 1 Haskell Invitiational, in which he trained Irish War Cry, bidding to become just the second New Jersey-bred to win the state’s richest and most prestigious race — and to give the win to owner-breeder Isabelle de Tomaso, the daughter of Amory Haskell, for whom the race was named.
But he could just as easily been talking about his day in general. Motion had six entered for Haskell day, most for de Tomaso but also including Miss Temple City, who is owned by The Club Racing LLC, Needle In A Haystack LLC, and Sagamore Farm.
Motion had hoped for a prep prior to Miss Temple City’s season bow in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes but was unable to get one, a victim of what the conditioner called “a little bit of a screwed up schedule this spring.”
Bettors weren’t concerned by her ragged debut. They made Miss Temple City, by far the most accomplished runner in the field, the 9-10 post time favorite.
By race’s end, however, bettors — and Motion — were left with more questions than answers about Miss Temple City, who seemed a bit riled up in the paddock pre-race but relaxed nicely once on the track.
“It worries me a little bit,” Motion said of Miss Temple City’s pre-race behavior, adding that he thought her connections would “definitely go back to a mile” with the mare.
There were no such questions for Wekeela, or for her trainer Chad Brown, however. Brown won three on the Monmouth Park card, including the Matchmaker and the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes with Money Multiplier.
And Wekeela, a French-bred mare by Irish-born sire Hurricane Run owned by Martin S. Schwartz, proved that she’s more than a one-horse equine United Nations by shooting a gap along the fence to surge to a three-quarters of a length win under jockey Javier Castellano. It was Wekeela’s first graded win in North America, to go with a Group 3 win in France.
And it came as the result of what Brown called a “perfect trip.”
Longshot Judy’s Chance grabbed the early advantage, leading the field through modest early fractions of 24.61 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.71 seconds for the half. After three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.13, Judy’s Chance still maintained a 1 1/2-length advantage with Miss Temple City a clear second.
Miss Temple City, in a bit tight during the run past the grandstand for the first time, quickly grabbed an ideal stalking spot to the outside of Judy’s Chance.
“She broke running, nice and relaxed,” said Edgar Prado, aboard Miss Temple City for the fifth consecutive race. “I had a horse outside of me in the first part of the race, but she was pretty much relaxed.”
Wekeela, meanwhile, was never far back under Javier Castellano, and, crucially, maintained a hammerlock on the rail position. Rounding the turn, she was able to remain on the rail while moving forward, and when Judy’s Chance drifted off the rail turning for home, Wekeela pounced, shooting up the rail.
“I was very aware of the situation,” Castellano said. “I took my shot riding the rail and it worked out great.”
Wekeela powered home, covering the last three-eighths of the 1 1/8 mile test in less than 35 4/5 seconds. Miss Temple City fought on but could not stay with the winner.
“When I turned her loose, she gave me a little kick but not long enough,” Prado said.
In the end, Wekeela was three parts of a length clear of War Flag, and it was another length back to Miss Temple City in third.
“Javier and I spoke in the paddock about how we had a terrific post position, but we had a lot of respect for both War Flag and Miss Temple City,” Brown said. “We knew Wekeela was probably going to have to get a perfect trip to beat those two horses today, and Javier executed that perfectly.”
“My plan was to be right behind the horses, saving as much ground as possible,” Castellano explained. “You need to have a perfect trip to beat Miss Temple City and that’s what happened.”
Running time for the 1 1/8 miles over firm turf was 1:47.97. The winner returned $6.60, and the exacta with 2.80-1 War Flag was good for $18.80.
Prado said he thought it was a better try for Miss Temple City than her prior race.
“At least she was running and trying and she was there until the end,” the Hall of Famer said.
Motion was perhaps less sanguine about it.
“She was awfully good going into this race,” he said. “I thought she had a great trip. She was in a good spot. So I can’t offer any excuses really.”