The filly Polish Polka made some surprising moves in the stretch but still wound up in the winner's circle yesterday in the $60,000 Pearl Necklace Stakes on the turf at Laurel Park.
Despite being the least experienced of the six Maryland-bred entries in the race, bettors sent Polish Polka, a Toronto-based 3-year-old off as the favorite at odds of 11-10. Starting from the fifth gate, jockey Mario Pino settled his horse in the middle of the pack and watched Silent Valay and Jazz, the latter the son of Quiet American, duel for the early lead of the 1 1/8 mile race. Polish Polka stayed well off the pace until Pino turned her loose going into the final turn.
Polish Polka passed the fading pacesetters with little difficulty and had drawn away from the field by several lengths when Pino noticed her turning her head toward the grandstand and drawing out. He thought a quick touch with his stick might get Polish Polka's focus back on the race, but that tactic almost proved disastrous. The whipping caused Polish Polka to swerve wildly toward the rail.
Luckily for all concerned, Polish Polka was far enough in front that the bizarre jump to the inside portion of the track didn't put her in any other horse's path, and Pino was able to steady her in time to preserve the victory.
At the wire, it was Polish Polka by a length over Perfect Challenge, a Linda Albert-trained filly who has now finished second in three of her last four races.
Polish Polka is the daughter of Polish Numbers, a standout Maryland stud known for producing turf stars such as Tenski. Though Polish Polka had only two starts prior to the Pearl Necklace--both on the grass at Woodbine, where trainer Malcolm Pierce stables her--she delivered quality trips in each. In June, Polish Polka broke her maiden by going wire to wire in her first race, and would have also won her second start had she not been distracted by the grandstand crowd while heading down the stretch with the lead.
Because Pierce had warned Pino that the filly was easily distracted, the jockey was somewhat prepared for what happened yesterday.
"The trainer told me what happened last time out, and I noticed she was looking around too much on me today after we got the lead," Pino said in the winner's circle. "I wanted to hit her one more time to get her to pay attention, but when I did, it was like, boom! She's not used to that, and she really fell in quick on me. That scared me, and I almost lost my balance. I'm just glad we were clear of the other horses."
Assistant trainer Sally Pierce said she can't wait until Polish Polka learns how to keep her concentration all the way to the wire.
"That's a sign of how lightly raced she is," she said. "She's got a lot to learn, but she's a gorgeous filly."