OZONE PARK, N.Y. — Trainer Rodolphe Brisset's Positive Spirit kicked off the stakes action on Cigar Mile Day at Aqueduct Racetrack in style, taking the Grade 2, $250,000 Demoiselle by 10 ½ lengths over a field of six other 2-year-old fillies, in the process stamping herself as a filly to watch in the lead up to next year's Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
Owned by Michael Ryan, Positive Spirit had one win to her credit from three tries prior to Saturday, but rewarded her connections' confidence with a sparkling breakthrough coming off a modest maiden score on Nov. 8 at Churchill Downs.
"She really changed after the race in Keeneland [on Oct. 6]," said Brisset. "The light bulb really went on after she got beat I didn't want to cut her back to a mile [in her last race] but I didn't have any choice. We did that, and since, she's been training well and we took a shot here. She gave us all the good signs for bringing her and it paid off."
Leaving from post 4 in the day's fourth race, Positive Spirit broke best of all but was rated off the early pace by jockey Manny Franco as Filly Joel led the field through honest splits of 24.16 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 49.19 for the half, and 1:15.51 for three-quarters. Sitting just off the 6-5 favorite Enliven while in third in the early going, Positive Spirit ranged up alongside the top-two around the far turn before promptly dispatching the pair as the field turned for home. From there, the daughter of Pioneerof the Nile steadily extended her advantage, chugging home to stop the clock in 1:56.01 for the 1 ⅛ miles.
"I was just the pilot," said Franco. "She was dragging me around the entire way around. I just waited for the right moment to make a run, and she was there for me. I wasn't concerned about being floated wide because on the backside we were running straight and didn't lose ground. I just kept her there, so she could stay clean, and she really did it easy. She took me to the front to make the lead and when I asked her she really opened up."
Sent off as an 11-1 outsider, Positive Spirit returned $24.40 on a $2 win wager and upped her career earnings to $219,200 while earning 10 qualifying points toward a berth in the Kentucky Oaks in May.
After settling in near the back of the pack early on, Afleet Destiny put in a sustained rally to finish second by 2 ¼ lengths for owner/trainer Uriah St. Lewis, who is quickly developing a penchant for picking up checks in major NYRA stakes races, as he did with Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup hero Discreet Lover throughout the year. Afleet Destiny's runner-up finish earned her four points toward a possible start in the Kentucky Oaks.
Filly Joel hung on to finish third to earn two points towards a berth in the Kentucky Oaks, with Molto Bella earning a single point for finishing fourth.
They were followed in order by Enliven, Jennifer's Dream and Girl of Tosconova.
As for Positive Spirit, the good vibes she engendered on Saturday unquestionably has Brisset looking ahead on the calendar to even bigger spots, but the French horseman was measured when discussing future plans.
"She's going to head to Payson Park mid next week," said Brisset, a longtime assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott. "I think we'll give her 30 days. It's a good place to chill and we can come up with a plan for next year. [Looking forward], who doesn't want to go to the Kentucky Oaks? Physically, she's a pretty big filly, but I'd love to see her develop even more in the transition between 2 and 3. Let's take it month by month."
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