SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY – Repole Stable’s homebred Always Shopping dueled gamely in midstretch before powering away late at a bettor-friendly price to win Saturday’s Gazelle Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct.
Breaking from post 5 under Manny Franco at 7/2 odds, Always Shopping sat just behind early leader Positive Spirit through tepid opening fractions of :24.92, :50.09, and 1:14.95. Ranging up alongside the pacesetter in the far turn, Always Shopping was at Positive Spirit’s throat latch by the top of the stretch. Though the pacesetter dug in and tried to battle back along the rail, Always Shopping proved too strong in the final furlong.
Drawing away late, the Todd Pletcher trainee crossed with a 1 3/4-length advantage in a final time of 1:52.91 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the good main track.
“I didn’t see a lot of speed in there, so I just let my filly break out of there and get position before the turn,” Franco said. “She took me there and I didn’t want to get in her way, so I just left her there. She was there all the way for me. She’s been doing everything right.”
Positive Spirit held onto second by a neck over a closing Off Topic, with Proud Emma 1 1/4 lengths behind them in fourth. The 9/5 favorite Espresso Shot never found her best footing and couldn’t close from the rear, running four-wide in the far turn but ultimately outkicking only Afleet Destiny to complete the order of finish.
The Gazelle is part of the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Oaks prep race season. Always Shopping earned 100 points for the win, with Positive Spirit receiving 40 for second, Off Topic 20 for third, and Proud Emma 10 for fourth.
Always Shopping’s win was her second straight, having broken her maiden in the Busanda Stakes here on February 3 going the same distance. The 3-year-old daughter of Awesome Again improved her record to 5-2-2-0 with $252,000 earned.
“We felt that the mile and 1/8 was in her favor,” Pletcher said. “She’s a rare horse that when you look at her figures, she’s made an improvement in every start. I think she’s proven that two turns, a mile and 1/8, is her thing. I actually think she’d be better off in a race with some pace where she could settle and make one run. I’m proud of her.”
Always Shopping returned $9.90 to win, $4.20 to place, and $3.30 to show. Positive Spirit brought back $3.80 to place and $3.10 to show, while Off Topic paid $3.40 to show.