When you owned a mare as courageous and successful as Lady Eli , it can make questions about your best distaff runner a foregone conclusion.
Yet for Jay Hanley that question is no longer a slam dunk. Thanks to Goodnight Olive , he has a reason to smile and think about it for a few seconds before offering an answer.
Part owner of a female turf champion in Lady Eli six years ago, Hanley also owns a share of last year’s female sprint champion who returned to her winning ways June 17 with a determined neck victory over Wicked Halo in the $194,000 Bed o’ Roses Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at Belmont Park.
“She right up there,” Hanley said about Goodnight Olive. “She’s a champion with a ton of heart and class.”
Trained by Chad Brown, who also trained Lady Eli, First Row Partners and Team Hanley’s Goodnight Olive rebounded from a rough-trip third in the May 6 Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs, which snapped a seven-race win streak, with yet another effort in which trouble once again presented itself but the Eclipse Award winner was able to overcome it.
Unlike the Derby City, when Goodnight Olive was pinned down on the rail and lacked running room in the stretch, this time after breaking from the rail in the seven-furlong sprint stakes, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. had to wait for a moment on the turn before shifting the daughter of Ghostzapper to the far outside. Shehe quickly regained her momentum in the final furlong to edge past Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Wicked Halo, the rival who was glued to her flank in the Derby City Distaff and finished second that day.
“Everybody was running full speed the whole way, while she basically has to pause, let them go by, and then she catches them. It takes a special horse to do that,” Hanley said.
As proud and pleased as Brown may have been with Saturday’s performance, as well the ride that netted Ortiz his fifth and final win on the card, he also thought it showed that the last-out defeat was due to a bad trip as opposed to a sub-par effort.
“I was really proud of her. She made multiple moves in the race. I thought each time Irad moved with her and used her, it was with good judgment,” Brown said of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) winner. “I think it pretty much confirmed that last time, had she gone off the rail, she’d still have her winning streak going. But that’s horse racing. I was just happy to see her really show her stuff and that she’s maintained her consistency and good form.”
While one-turn runners like Goodnight Olive and Cody’s Wish and Elite Power have made 2023 the year of the sprinter, both Hanley and Brown said a two-turn date could be awaiting the produce of the Smart Strike mare Salty Strik, bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. A July 22 race under consideration is the $500,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park.
“I’ve got to think about it. It’s not crazy to think about a race like the Molly Pitcher. If we’re ever going to try her at two turns on that type of track… it’s a half-million bucks, it’s not a grade 1 though. I’m just trying to think outside the box, so we’ll see. We could also just keep her fresh for the second half of the year,” Brown said.
Hanley said the plan will be to work backward from a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, which could be a bittersweet time for the connections. Hanley said that more than likely the 5-year-old mare will be offered at one of the top sales just after the Breeders’ Cup.
“The most likely outcome would be for us to sell her at the end of the year,” Hanley said. “Not that we even want to contemplate that. There is an unfortunate business side to this that works against running her at 6, but the way she’s running you’d love to run her at 6.”
Despite breaking first from the rail, Ortiz eased Goodnight Olive back to last in the small field of five as Beguine and Wicked Halo contested the early fractions of :22.90 and :46.09. Once Beguine faded to fifth, Godolphin’s Caramel Swirl moved up and gained a narrow lead in midstretch before Goodnight Olive ($2.60), the 3-10 favorite, swooped past her from the outside and Wicked Halo battled back to gain the place.
The final time for the seven furlongs was 1:22.39.
Wicked Halo, a homebred daughter of Gun Runner trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, was three-quarters of a length ahead of Caramel Swirl, a Union Rags mare trained by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
The win was the eighth in 10 starts for Goodnight Olive and lifted her earnings to $1,576,200. She was bought for $170,000 by First Row Partners, with Liz Crow as agent, from the Summerfield consignment at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale.
She is the third of four foals out of her dam and her lone stakes winner.