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OZONE PARK, NY – Godolphin homebred Lake Avenue made a triumphant return to Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday, winning the $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational for older fillies and mares at a mile on dirt by 6 3/4 lengths.
The win was a long time coming for Lake Avenue, who hadn’t tasted victory in a stakes race since the Demoiselle (G2) over this very track in 2019. Following a highly promising juvenile season that saw her win the Demoiselle by 4 lengths and established her as a leading contender for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, the chestnut daughter of Tapit had a disappointing 3-year-campaign, with her best placing coming in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) in which she finished third.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott was able to revive her career in South Florida, sending out the daughter of Tapit to victory in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park on February 3 in her 4-year-old debut, which netted her a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure.
Squarely back on the beam following her comeback win at Gulfstream, Lake Avenue seemed intent to stay there on Saturday. Breaking from the outermost post 8 with Manny Franco aboard, the chestnut filly left the gate cleanly and assumed a stalking position in fourth-place early as Portal Creek led the field through honest splits of 23.77 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.02 for the half on the fast main track.
Looking a winner every step, Lake Avenue coasted around the far turn while perched three to four wide off the leader as three-quarters went in 1:13.82, and once given the go-ahead by Franco, stormed to the front and never looked back, rolling home to complete the distance in 1:39.25.
“They just left it up to me and I think she’s a different filly right now,” said Franco. “She grew up and Mott is doing a great job with his horses. She is just very kind right now. I put her wherever she wants. I broke well and was able to rate her a little bit because I knew the pace was quick in front of me.
“I didn’t want to be too far back,” Franco added. “I wanted to be third or fourth and see what the two horse [Thankful] had. [At the far turn] I knew I had a lot of horse, so I didn’t want to move too soon. The one horse who could have beat me was behind me, so I took a peek back to see what she had. When the moment came, I asked her and she just took off.”
Lake Avenue returned $3.90 on a $2 win wager as the odds-on favorite, and with the lion’s share of the purse increased her career earnings to $319,787.
“She came in looking good and ran to that,” said Leana Willaford, assistant to Mott. “She rated nicely and ran very well. It was good to see.”
A tough-luck loser of the Grade 3 Go for Wand Handicap at Aqueduct in December, Portal Creek held well to be second, 2 ¾ lengths in front of longshot Flashndynamite, who finished a neck ahead of Needs Supervision.
Halo City and Landing Zone finished fifth and sixth, respectively, while Thankful, the clear second choice in the wagering, appeared to be spinning her wheels throughout and finished a well-beaten seventh. Gone Glimmering completed the order of finish.
“They wanted me to be on the front no matter what,” said Jorge Vargas, Jr., jockey aboard runner-up Portal Creek. “She ran a big race. She tried to stay on with the winner as long as she could, but that one is a very nice filly. She was just second-best today.”
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