Pimlico billed its opening day feature, the $100,000 Twixt Stakes, as a rematch of last year's Maryland Million Lassie between Richetta and He Loves Me, but trainer Richard Small didn't see the race as being that competitive.
"She stuck out like a sore thumb," Small said in the winner's circle after his 3-year-old filly He Loves Me easily handled Richetta and seven other runners in the race for Maryland-breds. "This is a lovely filly. She's made very few mistakes. Once in a blue moon you get one like this."
Small, 59, of Baltimore, has had a few blue moons, having trained mid-1980s handicap star Broad Brush, 1994 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern and the brilliant but ill-fated Caesar's Wish, who died of a heart attack at the top of the stretch in the 1978 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.
He Loves Me looks like the kind of horse who might join that elite company. The daughter of top Maryland stallion Not For Love has won her past five starts on dirt, all stakes races, sandwiching a sixth-place finish in the Hilltop Stakes on the Pimlico turf.
After a victory on July 2 in the Grade III Iowa Oaks, a drop back into state-bred company almost looked unfair to the opposition, and the fans bet He Loves Me down to odds of 2-5.
For the first half-mile of the Twixt, 31-1 shot Hi Five Raven led 51-1 shot Free Dip, while Richetta lay poised to strike in third, and jockey Jozbin Santana kept He Loves Me in the clear on the outside in fifth.
When the fillies reached the far turn in the 11/8-mile race, He Loves Me ranged up on the outside of Hi Five Raven without effort as jockey Steve Hamilton urged Richetta to keep up.
"At the half-mile pole, she just dragged me up," said Santana. "Coming to the stretch, I started riding her to let her know we were in business, and she took off."
A couple of taps with the whip by Santana, and He Loves Me won by 13/4 lengths in a time of 1 minute 51.12 seconds. Richetta finished second as last year's Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship winner Pour It On rallied for third.
"She might wind up in a better race," Small said of his options for He Loves Me. "I think I'll let [the best 3-year-old fillies in the country go to] Saratoga and get her a race at Belmont."
Racing Notes: Emerging from a pack of 12 horses, Society Selection wore down runaway leader Forest Music to win the 78th running of the Grade I $250,000 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga.
Trained by Hall of Fame member Allen Jerkens and ridden by Edgar Prado, Society Selection won the second Grade I race of her career, running the seven furlongs in 1:23.69. Bending Strings rallied for second, 61/4 lengths behind. Maryland-based Forest Music, who set torrid early fractions, including a half-mile in 44.19 seconds, held third.
Prado also won the Grade I $500,000 Diana Handicap for fillies and mares with Wonder Again, who beat Riskaverse by 53/4 lengths. The 5-year-old mare ran the 11/8-mile race over the yielding turf in a fast 1:48.99.