Facing a Grade 1-quality field in her first attempt in stakes company, Runnymede-bred Woodford Belle powered down the Gulfstream Park stretch to finish an eye-catching third in The Very One Stakes (G3) on February 25.
Among the eight rivals the five-year-old mare by Arch left behind her were Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl and Casablanca Smile, winner of the El Derby (G1) against colts and the Chilean Oaks (G1) in her native Chile.
Jockey Jesus Castanon kept Woodford Belle in last through the first half-mile, biding his time as Italian classic-placed filly Good Karma set the pace. As the field turned into the stretch of the 1 3/8-mile turf test, Castanon wheeled Woodford Belle to the outside and she proceeded to run down most of her competition.
Brazilian-bred Here to Win, a Group 1 winner and champion three-year-old filly in South Africa in 2010, won the race by a length over multiple graded stakes winner Keertana, who won the 2011 The Very One and was third in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Woodford Belle, who broke slowly, finished 4 ½ lengths back in third. She had won a Gulfstream allowance at the same distance on December 26 for trainer Michelle Nihei, who has worked diligently to help the mare achieve her best.
“Michelle Nihei has worked magic with Woodford Belle, who has done nothing but improve in every race under her care,” said Runnymede Chairman Catesby Clay, in whose silks Woodford Belle competes.
Bred by Runnymede in partnership with Clay’s sons Johnson Camden Clay and James E. Clay II, Woodford Belle was produced by our Notebook mare Tis Me, who has a striking yearling filly by Tiznow and will be bred back to that stallion this year. Tis Me was not bred last year following a late-season foaling.
Woodford Belle began her career in England, where she won a maiden race as a three-year-old while trained by Brian Meehan.