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2023 Gazelle Stakes Replay | Promiseher America Upsets Kentucky Oaks Prep; 1st Graded Win For Handal
Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM

2023 Gazelle Stakes Replay | Promiseher America Upsets Kentucky Oaks Prep; 1st Graded Win For Handal

Promiseher America won the 2023 Gazelle Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, a major 100-point prep race for the Kentucky Oaks (G1), at 26/1 to give trainer Ray Handal his 1st career graded stakes win. Is the progressing filly a sneaky long shot to win the Oaks? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Hoffman Thoroughbreds and Tom F. McCrocklin’s Promiseher America, the 26-1 longest shot on the board, overtook pacesetter Capella in the far turn and fended off Gambling Girl’s outside deep-stretch bid to win Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The 128th running of the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle – one of four graded stakes on a lucrative card highlighted by the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, offered 100-40-30-20-10 qualifying points to the top-five finishers towards the Grade 1, $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Promiseher America earned a spot at the multimillion dollar contest with her half-length win, which also marked trainer Ray Handal’s first career graded stakes victory.

Capella broke well from the rail position and led the six-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in 24.34 seconds, the half in 49.60 and three-quarters in 1:14.37 over the fast main track. Under jockey Jorge Vargas, Jr., Promiseher America was forwardly placed, stalking in second position before being urged up approaching the top of the stretch.

Once in command, Promiseher America did not relinquish the lead, thwarting a bid from 9-5 favorite Occult to her immediate outside. Shidabhuti made a late run but Gambling Girl, under rider Jose Ortiz, mounted the best threat in the final stages, gaining ground in the final furlong. But Vargas, Jr. kept Promiseher America to task, hitting the wire in 1:51.41 to secure an upcoming trip to Kentucky.

“I liked her today. She was 12-1 [on the morning line] and only had to improve a little bit,” Handal said. “I thought it was a good race to take a shot in for sure. She had been training so well, we had to take a shot.”

Added Vargas, Jr.: “She never breaks really well, so I was kind of expecting [a slow break]. I let her take her time and then I pushed her a little and she got right into it. I was very pleased where I was the whole trip. I’m happy that Ray gave me the opportunity to be on her today. I’m extra happy and couldn’t be any more excited.”

The New York-bred Gambling Girl finished 1 1/2-lengths clear of Shidabhuti for runner-up honors, with Capella earning 20 points for fourth. Occult and Frosty O Toole completed the order of finish.

Bred in Kentucky by Robert Low and Lawana Low, Promiseher America returned $55 on a $2 win wager in her stakes debut. Handal will now look to saddle his first ever entrant in the Kentucky Oaks off a milestone win for the conditioner.

“Finally, I can get that monkey off my back! I hope next time is not too far between drinks,” said Handal, who added that Promiseher America will likely continue to train in New York before shipping to Kentucky the week of the Oaks.

A daughter of Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah, Promiseher America has improved in each of her four career starts, starting with an eighth-place finish in December at the Big A before a runner-up effort in January and a maiden-breaking score in her previous start in February over the same track. She improved her career earnings to $198,138.

“This filly has done everything right since we’ve had her,” Handal said. “I thought that from before she ran she would relish the longer distances. Second time out, we stretched out to seven [furlongs], and she ran against a buzzsaw in Ziaerati that day. I saw a lot of good things from her though. I thought her next progression would get better going a mile.

“She was super impressive last time and I said, ‘Let’s go the nine furlongs,” he added. “We can always go back to the 1x if we need to.’ But I like the idea of two turns. She’s just built like a two-turn kind of horse. She obviously had to step up. It was one of those races where whoever took the biggest step forward would win this race today and she was in the realm of them and she hung on.”

Repole Stable’s Gambling Girl, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, earned black type in a second graded stakes, building on a third-place effort in the Grade 2 Demoiselle in December at Aqueduct. The Dialed In filly, bred by Gallagher’s Stud, now has 61 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points.

“She’s a hard-knocking filly. She’s not very big, but she always seems to show up in every race,” said Pletcher assistant Byron Hughes.