By Tod Marks
Call her one tough mare who just keeps getting better with age. Shadowfax Racing’s Down Royal, an eight-year-old with an impeccable resume, added a new accolade to her lofty list of accomplishments, with a come-from-behind win against six tough male foes in the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Stakes at Saratoga on Wednesday: Grade 1 winner.
The daughter of Alphabet Soup, who was bred by Kate and Bernie Dalton, who respectively train and ride the mare they affectionately call “Princess,” sat near the rear of the tightly bunched pack for most of the 2 1/16 miles, then swung to the outside and made her move heading into the final turn for the lengthy run over the flat under the blistering heat and summer sun. It was a strategy reminiscent of many of Bernie Dalton’s previous Saratoga wins: Run easily and unhurriedly at the back of the field while saving ground on the inside, move up in the latter stages, and charge through an opening at the opportune moment.
Entering the stretch, Down Royal still had to catch Irv Naylor’s 15-1 Chief Justice, who raced on or near the lead throughout under Barry Foley, and Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan, with Jack Doyle, the former NSA champion jockey, returning from Ireland for the mount. It didn’t take long for Down Royal to edge past Iranistan, the 2-1 betting favorite who also contended for the lead from the get-go, while Chief Justice seemed to have plenty left in the tank. But as Chief Justice bore out slightly in mid-stretch, Dalton spotted the opening and swung Down Royal to the inside amid a late surge by another Naylor charge, French Light. Though French Light was gaining ground, the fight to the finish was between Down Royal and Chief Justice, with the mare prevailing by a neck. French Light finished third at 10-1, about a length and a quarter behind the top two. The winner went off at 6-1.
Run under handicap conditions, Down Royal carried 141 pounds in the Smithwick, the least weight among the seven starters, and five less than Chief Justice. French Light carried 144 pounds.
After the race, Kate Dalton, who also campaigned Down Royal’s dam, Miss Crown, was “stupefied” by the results, and said the team would have to rethink their upcoming plans for their star.
“It’s quite overwhelming,” she admitted. “I thought I had a plan of Colonial Downs (the Randolph Rouse Stakes) and Far Hills, but it’s possibly changing now in light of yesterday.
“We are going to get her home and see what she tells us. We hadn’t planned on the Smithwick but she was saying she wanted to do something so we listened and it worked out pretty well, so we’ll keep letting her tell us where she’s going!”
With the win, Down Royal, a New York-bred, has now recorded four straight victories dating back to August 2021, including three stakes: The Margaret Currey Henley, Peapack, and Rouse. She has also taken five of her previous six starts – the only “blemish” on her record being a second to last season’s Eclipse Award winner, The Mean Queen, in the 2021 Henley.
Anthony and Mark Speelman’s Pistol Whipped, trained by Leslie Young and ridden by European star Nico de Boinville, bled in the race. The starting highweight at 158 pounds and 3-1 second betting choice, Pistol Whipped vied for the lead in the early going, but was pulled up after a mile and a half. Pistol Whipped will get some time off and aim for a return at Far Hills in October.
You can view the race replay by clicking here: https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/replays