By Mike Kane
Much was expected of the son of two Horses of the Year and Jess’s Dream (Curlin) delivered a jaw-dropper Monday, with a thrilling last-to-first move to win his debut at Saratoga Race Course.
After a slow start and lagging well off the pace–he was 16 1/2 lengths behind of the leader after a half-mile–the first foal out of Rachel Alexandra by Curlin came running in the stretch to pass the other six maidens and win by a widening length. Jess’s Dream, bred and owned by Stonestreet Stables, covered the 1 1/8 miles under jockey Johnny Velazquez in 1:49.06.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin acknowledged that he felt the pressure that came with the first start of a colt who had received a remarkable amount of attention, from conception, to foaling, to his naming and throughout the long wait for his first start delayed by a breathing issue. Though it was a contest for maidens, the sixth race had the feel of the feature for the program.
“It was like a Grade I stakes,” McLaughlin said. “It was pretty special just because of who it is and listening to the fans clap. It’s great to win here at Saratoga with this horse because they appreciate him.”
The late Jess Jackson purchased Curlin and Rachel Alexandra during their racing careers and they both went on to become very popular champions and earned Horse of the Year honors. Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 GI Woodward S., defeating older males, on what was a special day in Saratoga history.
Jackson decided on the mating of his two stars, but died in April 2011, about nine months before Jess’s Dream was foaled. The name was selected from thousands of submissions by fans and announced in the Saratoga winner’s circle in July 2012.
Jess’s Dream was Rachel Alexandra’s first foal. Her second foal, Rachel’s Valentina (Bernardini) broke her maiden earlier in the Saratoga meet with a ‘TDN Rising Star’ performance. Rachel Alexandra nearly died after the second foal was born and has not been bred since.
For quite a while Monday, it appeared that Jess’s Dream was turning in a nightmarish performance. Once he started rolling, though, he began to quickly make up ground on the others. He raced seven or eight paths wide in the stretch, surged to the lead inside the sixteenth pole and was under a hand ride at the wire.
“I knew he would come running–we’ve had him behind horses plenty–but I was worried about if he was going to pass any of them,” McLaughlin said. “I was hoping that he would just hit the board. Then all of a sudden, you start calling on him looking like he could win.”
Velazquez had worked the colt and knew he did not have early speed and was patient.
“I left him alone for so long,” Velazquez said. “At the half-mile pole, I thought I was too far back. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was going to start running. Once he started rolling at the quarter-mile pole, I thought I might have a chance to win. I put him on the outside and he went by.”
McLaughlin joked about putting the colt in Saturday’s GI Travers S., but said his next start would likely be in an allowance race at Belmont Park.
“The potential was shown today,” McLaughlin said. “He’s never had any issues other than the pharyngitis. It was just because of who he was we kept trying to get specialists involved and trying to figure it out. But it has worked out and he’s a very talented horse.”