(Oleksandra / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team:
On Sunday’s Father’s Day card at Belmont Park, a talented mare in-foal captured the spotlight by defeating males in the featured race, as 17-1 Oleksandra came from last-of-nine to duel three-time Grade 1-winner Raging Bull in deep stretch, prevailing by a head to win the Grade 3, $250,000 Poker for 4-year-olds and up going one mile on the Widener turf.
Team Valor International’s Oleksandra, whose previous start at Belmont was a win on 2020 Belmont Stakes Day in the Grade 1 Jaipur against fillies and mares, is in foal to Into Mischief. But in her career finale, the 7-year-old Animal Kingdom mare had more in mind than a broodmare career, breaking slowly from post 2 and staying well off Get Smokin’s early fractions of 22.52 seconds for the quarter-mile with the half in 44.60 over the firm course.
Rosario urged Oleksandra up in the far turn and tipped her out as the field straightened for home. The veteran Australian bred showed a strong turn-of-foot in overtaking eight rivals from the outside, responding to Rosario’s encouragement with a furious push for home. Oleksandra needed every bit of that effort, as Raging Bull surged up the rail and gained ground in the final jumps.
But Oleksandra staved off the late bid and hit the wire in a stellar 1:32.11 final time, winning for the first time in exactly one year when she tied a career-high 101 Beyer Speed Figure for her Japiur effort.
“She ran a really tremendous race,” Rosario said. “She was really relaxed. The pace was fast and she was there for me. It was very impressive. We started picking up a little bit after three furlongs and she got her momentum with that stride that she has. At one point, I just decided to try going out a little bit. I didn’t want to get stuck.”
Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale said he decided to skip this year’s Jaipur edition on June 5 because of soft turf and instead stretched Oleksandra out to one mile in her final race before retirement. The move paid off, as she returned $36.80 for a $2 win wager and capped her career with an 8-4-3 record in 20 career starts with earnings of $705,748.
“Things haven’t gone exactly smooth this year for her,” said Drysdale, referring to her previous start when fifth in the Unbridled Sidney in April over a Churchill Downs turf course labeled good. “We ran in Kentucky and realized she doesn’t like the soft going. So, then we decided not to run here [in the Jaipur] because it was raining a lot here too at the time.
“Since she’s more relaxed this year, we decided to try her at a mile hoping she could get the distance, and she did,” he added. “She’s pregnant, so this was her swan song. She’ll go out on a high note.”
Rosario won the Poker for second time in the last three editions, also piloting Gucci Factor in 2019.
“I was a little concerned about how she would break and put me in the spot and if she could relax after going shorter,” Rosario said. “It was a nice training job by Neil. He’s one of the best.”
Oleksandra’s win thwarted Chad Brown’s quest for his 100th career graded stakes win at Belmont, but 3-5 favorite Raging Bull earned graded stakes black type for the fifth time in seven starts in finishing three lengths clear of stablemate Front Run the Fed.
Raging Bull, the winner of the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile last out, had previously made a dozen consecutive Grade 1 starts before the Poker.
“No excuses,” said Raging Bull jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was bidding for his fourth win on the card.
Sanctuary City, Get Smokin, Penalty, Tell Your Daddy, Raased and Veronesi completed the order of finish.
Live racing resumes Thursday at Belmont with a nine-race card. First post is 3:05 p.m. Eastern.