By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The Florida Sunshine Millions got off to a perfect start at Gulfstream Park Saturday when Awesome Feather extended her unbeaten streak with a dazzling performance in the $300,000 Distaff.
Sent to post in the first of six stakes for Florida-bred thoroughbreds as the 4-5 favorite in a field of six, Awesome Feather scored by 5 ¾ lengths under jockey Jeffrey Sanchez to collect her ninth straight victory.
“She trained great for the race, but you just don’t know until you can run them,” said trainer Chad Brown, who saddled the daughter of Awesome of Course for the Stronach Stables. “She’s just a real pro.”
Awesome Feather, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on her way to a year-end Eclipse Award championship, broke alertly from the starting gate to closely attend pacesetter Tiz the Argument, the 7-5 second choice ridden by Ramon Dominguez. The two fillies opened up several lengths on their rivals along the backstretch and into the far turf while posting solid fractions of :23.46, :46.69, 1:10.82 for the first six furlongs.
“I was a little concerned when I saw the fast fractions, but Jeffrey is part of the team and executed perfectly,” Brown said.
Midway on the turn, Awesome Feather edged past the tiring pacesetter under her own power and opened a clear lead entering the stretch. Delightful Mary drew within a couple lengths while under full drive by jockey Luis Contreras, but the odds-on favorite was asked for her run and she responded by quickly sprinted away from her challenger with authority.
“She just hit another gear and it was over,” Brown said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever seen every gear she’s got.”
Awesome Feather ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.17. Delightful Mary, who had finished third behind Awesome Feather in the 2010 Juvenile Fillies in their last meeting, held second money, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of 2011 Sunshine Millions winner Sweet Repent. Tiz the Argument faded to fifth.
“I committed to make the lead and the winner was pressing me hard. When I looked over she was just very handy,” Dominguez said. “We couldn’t match strides with her. She’s really like her name says.”
Awesome Feather, who swept the Florida Stallion Series before concluding her championship 2-year-old season with her Breeders’ Cup score, was purchased at auction for $2.3 million by Stronach Stables prior to her 3-year-old season. A tendon injury that put her racing career in jeopardy was subsequently discovered, but the patience of her new owner and trainer paid off in the fall, when Awesome Feather returned to action to capture an overnight stakes at Belmont Park before posting a five-length victory in the Gazelle (G1) on Nov. 25.
Her 4-year-old debut was just as impressive.
“I have so much confidence in her,” said Sanchez, who has been aboard Awesome Feather for all nine of her victories. “She’s just so special to me. She’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden. She’s the best filly in the world.”
Awesome Feather’s brilliant performance will leave racing fans wanting to see more from her.
“We don’t have anything in particular in mind for her,” Brown said. “The biggest thing with her is to see how she comes back. We’ll talk to the Stronachs and see where we go. With her, it’s one race at a time.”