STANTON, Del. — Bill Mott's first choice was definitely not to wait more than eight months between starts for his wonderful filly Elate. But she had some slight injury issues that kept her away from the races between Nov. 3 and Saturday.
Well, the Hall of Fame trainer absolutely had Elate ready to run in the 81st Delaware Handicap. And when jockey Jose Ortiz sensed how slow the early pace was, he let Elate run down the Delaware Park backstretch, and run she did, from near last to a clear first in barely a quarter mile. She reeled off consecutive quarter miles in under 25 seconds, and none of the other seven fillies or mares could keep up. Elate cruised home 3 1/2 lengths in front of 85-1 shot Sneaky Betty.
The final time for the mile and quarter was 2:04.83, not terribly fast, but it is hard to put up a fast time when the early fractions are so slow. When Elate needed to go fast to break the race wide open, she did.
"The backside, I thought they were going pretty slow, so I decided to make a move and I did,'' Ortiz said.
The $400,000 first prize in the $750,000 DelCap brought Elate's career earnings to $1.27 million. Mott has plans to run in major stakes at Saratoga this summer and Belmont Park this fall in preparation for a run at the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November.
When Mott was asked how many horses he has brought off such a long layoff to win at such a demanding distance, he figured he's done it on turf, but maybe not on dirt, just because there are so few dirt races at the distance. Only a really good filly could have pulled it off.
"She went early, she held on well,'' Mott said. "She did what she had to do. She took over and looked like she did it with authority. Was she getting a little tired at the end? She could have been, she had a right to.''
Elate had a great summer and early fall in New York last year, dominating the Alabama and Beldame after running a great second to eventual 3-year-old filly champion Abel Tasman in the CCA Oaks.
There was some talk that Abel Tasman was going to come from California for the DelCap, but trainer Bob Baffert opted not to send her. Would Abel Tasman's presence have changed Mott's plans?
"We were coming,'' Mott said.