It was just more than a year ago when a 3-year-old filly with a great pedigree and obvious promise announced herself as a potential star with a dominating win in the Light Hearted Stakes at Delaware Park.
Elate will return to DelPark on Saturday for the $750,000 Delaware Handicap with a serious resume, a Hall of Fame trainer, and the 2017 Eclipse Award-winning jockey who looks as if he is on his way to the Hall of Fame himself someday.
Since that June 15, 2017 race at Delaware, Elate ran a brilliant second to eventual 3-year-old filly champion Abel Tasman in the Grade I CCA Oaks and won the Grade I Alabama and Grade I Beldame by a combined 13 3/4 lengths before finishing a decent fourth as the favorite in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Few trainers would even try what Bill Mott is attempting with Elate in this race. She has not run since that November Friday at DelMar and will be trying to win at a mile and a quarter, her first race in more than eight months.
If it was just about any other trainer, you would say no way. With Mott, you would expect Elate to be ready and to beat a solid group of eight opponents, including millionaire Unbridled Mo, a four-time graded stakes winner who is 7 for 11 lifetime for top trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the DelCap four times, tying Henry Clark for the record.
Only six horses have won the DelCap twice. Most recently, it was Royal Delta in 2012 and 2013. The second year, she won by 10 3/4 lengths, the largest margin in the 81-year history of the race. And, yes, Royal Delta was trained by Mott, winner of 4,841 races along with purse earnings of $266 million, fifth all-time. He has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice and the Distaff five times.
Jose Ortiz has been riding for only seven years, but has already won 1.564 races. His mounts have earned $112 million. He makes very few tactical mistakes, his horses almost always in the right place to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
The DelCap was downgraded to a Grade II this year, but Elate is clearly a Grade I horse. The 4-year-old filly, by top sire Medaglia d’Oro, is coming down from Saratoga, where she has been training for months. Unbridled Mo, who will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, will make the shorter trip from Belmont Park.
Unbridled Mo put on a career performance when crushing the field April 13 in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. She regressed dramatically when she was a distant third to Abel Tasman in the Ogden Phipps on June 9 on the Belmont Stakes Day card.
Farrell, who has been loose on the lead in her last four starts without winning any of them, seems the likely pacesetter in the race. There seems to be a chance, however, that Farrell won’t be making the trip from Kentucky. Regardless of the pace, Elate and Unbridled Mo should be somewhere in mid-pack, their jockeys eyeing each other, deciding when to make their move.