OZONE PARK, N.Y. — Mike Repole's homebred Always Shopping settled off a moderate pace and launched a powerful stretch kick to make her graded stakes debut a winning one the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle at Aqueduct Racetrack on April 6.
Patiently guided by jockey Manny Franco for trainer Todd Pletcher, the sophomore daughter of Awesome Again stalked from second position as Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes winner Positive Spirit produced opening fractions of 24.92 seconds for the quarter-mile and 50.09 to the half.
With three-quarters reached in 1:14.95, Always Shopping began inching her way to the lead and took control at the top of the stretch. Positive Spirit put up a game fight to her inside in the final quarter mile, but Always Shopping showed her grit to prevail by 1 ¾ lengths. Positive Spirit completed the exacta, a neck in front of Off Topic.
Always Shopping completed the 1 1/8-mile journey in a time of 1:52.91 over a main track labeled fast. Rounding out the order of finish were Proud Emma, Espresso Shot and Afleet Destiny.
"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."
The Gazelle was the second straight win for Always Shopping who broke her maiden last out in the Busanda on Feb. 3 at the Big A following a pair of runner-up efforts.
"We felt that the mile and an eighth 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.
"There wasn't really any pace looking at the race on paper," Pletcher continued. "It was one of those races where you had no really good idea of who would be on the lead. We decided to just let Manny [Franco] do his thing and he put her in a good spot. He said he felt like he had a lot of horse the whole way."
With a winning effort in the Gazelle, Always Shopping earned 100 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks and moved to second on the leaderboard with 110 points.
"I think the key is if she can continue moving forward," Pletcher said. "I think she's proven that two turns, a mile and an eighth, 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."
Runner-up Positive Spirit moved to 10th on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 50 points after picking up 40 points with her effort.
"She broke really alert," jockey Jose Ortiz said. "I was able to go to the lead and walk the dog as long as I could. When I felt Franco coming by the three-eighths pole I said, 'I've gone easy enough, I've got to go on.' I went on, he went on, and he beat me."
Always Shopping returned $9.90 for a $2 win bet and cashed a check for $165,000 following the triumph. Her lifetime earnings now sit at $252,000 with an overall record of 5-2-2-0.
Bred in Kentucky, Always Shopping is the second offspring out of the Grade 1-placed More Than Ready broodmare Stopshoppingmaria who also produced stakes winner Mo Shopping.
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