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Gazelle Stakes 2024 | Aqueduct Replay [Kentucky Oaks]
Where's My Ring (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Gazelle Stakes 2024 | Aqueduct Replay [Kentucky Oaks]

The Val Brinkerhoff-trained Where’s My Ring won the 2024 Gazelle Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, a prep race for the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

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Watch the race replay here:

The press release:

Michael McMillan’s Where’s My Ring secured her spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks starting gate as she broke her maiden in style, drawing off to a 4 1/4-length score in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Gazelle, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Val Brinkerhoff and piloted by Jose Lezcano, the Twirling Candy bay, sent to post as the 5-2 favorite, picked up the maximum allotment of 100-50-25-15-10 Kentucky Oaks points on offer to the top-five finishers in the nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies.

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“It’s not about breaking the maiden, we wanted to be in the Oaks, that was our goal,” said McMillan. “I just got into horse racing, I met Val and Kelly Brinkerhoff and I told them ‘I’m not in this for little races, we are in it for the big races.’ I told them it was going to be the Kentucky Oaks. Everyone was shocked that we came here, but our whole team figured out the best race for us. It was a huge team effort.”

Brinkerhoff said he was thrilled that the plan to ship and win – rather than face Kinza in the shorter 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks – proved successful.

“I’m ecstatic to get a chance like this. I come from the bush tracks in Utah and to get to do this is pretty awesome,” Brinkerhoff said. “It’s his [Michael McMillan] first horse and I’ve had one in the Breeders’ Cup where we ran third [Restrainedvengence in the 2021 Dirt Mile], but this filly has a lot of potential. It’s been a long time getting to here and she’s getting better and better, so hopefully by the Oaks, we’ll be even better.”

Carmelina broke to the lead from post 8 under Mychel Sanchez and set splits of 23.57 seconds and 48.05 over the fast main track with the Dylan Davis-piloted Regulatory Risk to her outside in second and Where’s My Ring saving ground in third.

Life Talk, second choice in the wagering under Kendrick Carmouche, advanced to sixth position down the backstretch as Carmelina continued to show the way through three-quarters in 1:12.80 while Regulatory Risk and Where’s My Ring maintained their stalking positions.

Regulatory Risk made her move late in the turn as Lezcano tipped Where’s My Ring off the rail and launched a bold, wide move to engage the leaders. Regulatory Risk fought on gamely as Carmelina faded but there was no denying the energetic Where’s My Ring, who surged to victory in a final time of 1:50.33.

Regulatory Risk completed the exacta by 5 1/4-lengths over Gin Gin, with Whocouldaskformo and Life Talk picking up the remaining Oaks points. Barbratina, Carmelina, Princess Vino and Munny Grab completed the order of finish. Six Pack Senorita was scratched.

Lezcano, who won five races at Aqueduct Thursday, said he was impressed with his first trip aboard Where’s My Ring in the Gazelle.

“I watched a couple of the replays and she takes a couple steps before full stride,” Lezcano said. “Today she broke pretty good and took two or three jumps before going full stride and after that I already had somebody in front of me. She did everything right and waited for my asking and went on to win the race. I tried to keep her close. I didn’t know how she’d react to dirt in the face so I kept her very close and never got dirt in the face and she gave me everything she had. I had plenty left in the tank.”

Where’s My Ring, a $100,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, made five starts as a 2-year-old that included a fourth-place finish on turf in the Grade 3 Surfer Girl and a distant eighth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – both at Santa Anita Park.

She made a pair of sophomore starts at the Arcadia, California oval ahead of the Gazelle, finishing second in both a one-mile maiden in February and the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Santa Ysabel on March 9 when five lengths back of well-regarded Kinza, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.

“We have run her with all the best fillies in southern California and that’s not an easy spot,” Brinkerhoff said. “Baffert beat us a couple of times [with Kinza], and I actually think we can beat him going a mile and an eighth, but the race there was a mile and a sixteenth, so we opted to come here to get the extra distance. We got a great ride from Jose, a beautiful ride, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Davis said the Chad Brown-trained maiden winner Regulatory Risk, last seen finishing fifth in the Listed Busher here, performed admirably in her graded stakes debut in the Gazelle. Regulatory Risk now has a total of 55 points towards a spot in the 14-horse starting gate for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

“She ran great stretching out two turns. She was able to track nicely laying second,” Davis said. “I had the one [Where’s My Ring] in a little bit of trouble in the first turn. Tracking nicely, she carried me. She actually never switched off, she had the bridle pretty good all the way to the quarter pole. When I asked her, she picked up nicely, but she was second-best here. I thought she ran a great effort. We think maybe a mile will be a better suit – she might give you a better kick.”

Brinkerhoff said he has yet to map out a travel route to Churchill Downs for Where’s My Ring.

“We haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to fly her back to Santa Anita or if I’ll head home and get my stuff – I’ve got stalls at Keeneland and I’ve got some real good 2-year-olds of his we want to get back there and run. We’ll have to talk it over tomorrow and decide what route we’re going to go with,” Brinkerhoff said.

Bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, Where’s My Ring banked $110,000 for the Gazelle victory while improving her record to 8-1-3-1. She returned $7.10 for a $2 win bet.