Shadwell’s Zaajel Surprises Always Carina, Upsets Mother Goose Stakes At Belmont

Shadwell Stable’s Zaajel provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a graded stakes win on his birthday, overtaking 4-5 favorite Always Carina in the final furlong and prevailing by 1 1/4 lengths as the longest shot on the board at 18-1 to win Saturday’s $250,000 Grade 2 Mother Goose Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a one-turn, 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park in Elmont, Ny.

Pletcher, who turned 54 and recorded his sixth career win in the Mother Goose, moved Zaajel back to the main track after she ran seventh in her turf debut last out in the Grade 2 Edgewood Stakes in April at Churchill Downs. The Street Sense filly was forwardly placed by jockey Joel Rosario in her Belmont debut, staying in second position as Always Carina led the five-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in :24.03 and the half in :48.03 on the fast track.

Zaajel stayed close to Always Carina out of the turn and moved up from the outside when straightened for home, running stride-for-stride with her rival before pulling ahead. After an aggressive hand ride, Rosario used a quick burst of left-handed encouragement as Zaajel surged home a winner in a 1:42.83 final time.

“She ran really big today. She was very comfortable and happy,” Rosario said. “I knew the horse on the lead was the horse to beat and she did it. She ran a big race today. She was moving very well for me.”

Zaajel, who captured the Grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes in her 3-year-old bow in January at Gulfstream Park, became a two-time graded stakes winner, improving her overall ledger to three wins in five starts. The Kentucky homebred returned $38.80 on a $2 win wager and upped her career bankroll to $228,640.

“She had been training well and got back to one turn,” said Pletcher assistant Byron Hughes. “We knew it was going to be a short field, and she ran well.

“We thought she would be forwardly placed. We had Chad’s filly [Brown, Always Carina] on her inside and she sat right on her hip,” he added. “Joel did a great job of keeping her right there and she responded well and got the win.”

Pletcher added to his rich history in this race, where he also saddled victorious Off the Tracks [2016], Buster’s Ready [2011], Devil May Care [2010], Octave [2007], and Jersey Girl [1998].

Three Chimneys Farm’s Always Carina, who entered her stakes debut 2-for-2 for trainer Chad Brown, held off a surging Clairiere by a nose for second.

“She certainly didn’t run up to her capabilities today,” Brown said. “Maybe switching her off and going a little too slow during the race – which she’s not really used to – in hindsight, might have put her to sleep a bit. We’ll have to see how she comes out of the race and see if there’s any other reason. But my first thought is that maybe we should have just let her roll on the front. She fought on bravely for second but that wasn’t how she had run her first two starts, that’s for sure.”

Always Carina, a homebred Malibu Moon filly, was stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time after graduating at six furlongs and winning last out by 9 3/4 lengths going one mile on Big Sandy.

“My horse was traveling well and she accelerated nicely,” said Always Carina jockey Flavien Prat. “She just got beat by a filly who had more experience. I didn’t have any issues. She dug in well.”

Make Mischief and Illiogami completed the order of finish.

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