Chad Brown would very much like to win the last running of the Matriarch Stakes on Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park. In this, he is not alone since the Matriarch is a Grade 1 race for fillies and mares, and fillies and mares with Grade 1 credentials seem to be worth their weight in gold these days.
The purse is $250,000, a far cry from the Matriarch’s $700,000 high point, but still, the money spends. Brown even has an outside chance of finishing second in the national purse standings behind Todd Pletcher this year, so every little bit will help.
In that spirit, Brown has sent two fillies to California from his New York base for the Matriarch – the recent Athenia Stakes winner Pianist and First Lady Stakes runner-up Dayatthespa. Pianist, a daughter of More Than Ready, is making her first start out West. Dayatthespa, on the other hand, is returning to the scene of the crime.
It was a year ago when Dayatthespa hit Los Angeles on a five-race winning streak that included the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. Her record inspired horseplayers to make her favored over her elders in the Matriarch, and she was rightfully feared.
But as the field made its way around the first turn of the one-mile race, something tripped in the panic department of Dayatthespa’s equine brain. She jumped, then jumped again, and it was all Javier Castellano could do to stay in the saddle and steer her home in one piece.
Brown looked at the videotape long enough to form an opinion of what happened, then never looked at it again. Who could blame him?
“As best we could determine, she was in tight quarters, and for whatever reason, she attempted to jump the rail to escape,” Brown said. “Luckily, she missed, twice.”
It goes without saying that she’d never done anything like that before. We would have heard.
“She’s a high-strung horse in the sense that in the paddock she can be a little more excitable and therefore require extra schooling,” Brown said. “In the morning, we tend to train her on a quieter track, so we take some precautions. But as far as doing something dangerous to herself or those around here, that was a first, a real freak incident.”
Dayatthespa struck a front tendon in her self-inflicted tangle and opened a nasty gash.
“It was a little touch-and-go at times,” Brown said. “When you have a wound in the area of a sensitive, important part of a horse like a flexor tendon, those things can be difficult to heal, especially if there’s a lot of movement where they’re wounded. Luckily, in this case, all of the trauma was superficial, and the core structure of the tendon was never damaged.”
The filly’s record since her return backs Brown to the hilt. Dayatthespa came back in May at Belmont with an easy win against New York-breds, then finished a close second to the red-hot Laughing in the Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park. Another score against New Yorkers gave Brown the confidence to try her in the First Lady at Keeneland, where she was beaten a head by Better Lucky – the same Better Lucky she defeated in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup and the same Better Lucky who ended up winning last year’s Matriarch.
Since its inception at the first Hollywood Park fall meet in 1981, the Matriarch has been the strongest West Coast turf race for fillies and mares year in and year out. There has never been a weak Matriarch, and the last one is no exception.
Better Lucky is back for Tom Albertrani, along with Del Mar Oaks winner Discreet Marq from the barn of Christophe Clement and the locally based Tiz Flirtatious, Wishing Gate, and Egg Drop, who among them have won seven graded stakes this year.
Brown had the good fortune to spend three years working winters at Hollywood Park for the man who basically owned the Matriarch. Between 1996 and 2007, Bobby Frankel won the race eight times. In 2009, 12 days after Frankel’s death, his top assistant, Humberto Ascanio, sent out Ventura to win yet another.
“Most of what I learned working for Frankel I learned at Hollywood Park,” said Brown, who went on his own in 2007 at age 29. “He required me to work there, under Humberto.”
In the winter, Frankel had a barn and a half, some 75 horses. Brown was asked to list the ones he remembered.
“You’d go right down the line, like Murderers’ Row,” Brown said. “Medaglia d’Oro, Ghostzapper, Peace Rules, Intercontinental, Heat Haze, Sightseek, Wild Spirit, Tates Creek. It was like working in Fantasyland.”
More like total immersion.
“Frankel was the kind of guy who didn’t miss a thing,” Brown said. “He saw every leg, every day. I always left the barn thinking I didn’t learn quite enough that day. You tried not to miss anything, but it was impossible – there was so much to take in. I was a very lucky guy.
“Knowing how important the Matriarch was for my mentor, it would be very special if we could somehow pull this off, with either of my horses,” Brown added. “But what a great story if Dayatthespa could go back out there and actually win the last Matriarch. Call it a do-over.”
To read more go to www.drf.com. Written by Jay Hovdey