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Red Ruby overcomes bad signs

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Photographs by Benjamin Krain

Robby Albarado

HOT SPRINGS -- There was more for Red Ruby to overcome than a field of quality fillies.

Moments before the start of the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Red Ruby reared as jockey Robby Albarado directed her from the paddock into gray mist and onto the racetrack. She remained fractious throughout the post parade.

Significant misbehavior of that sort is rarely overcome by thoroughbreds, but when the gates opened for the Martha Washington, Red Ruby immediately stepped back into character. She tucked into what her trainer Kellyn Gorder later said was an ideal position and charged ahead of second-place Sassy Sienna in the homestretch to win the 1-mile race in 1:39.67 over four others in the field.

The victory earned Ruby Red 10 of the 17 available points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Sassy Sienna received four, Cosmic Burst two for her third-place finish and Tyfosha, the 2-1 favorite, one for finishing fourth.

"This is a big one for us," Gorder said.

Albarado flew in from New Orleans, where he spends winters riding as a regular at Fair Grounds Race Course, to ride Red Ruby, by Tiznow, for Gorder.

Albarado had ridden both of Red Ruby's previous races, in October and November at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., site of the Kentucky Oaks on May 4. This was her first race since Nov. 25, which rider and trainer offered as a possible explanation for her behavioral lapse.

"She was really acting out of character for her," Albarado said. "She was very nervous. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the layoff, but it was my only concern today. I mean, she's been a professional since Day One, even before she first raced."

"I schooled her in the paddock a couple of days ago, and she was just fine," Gorder said. "She's usually pretty calm, but maybe it was just the layoff."

Secret Passion, the long shot in the field at 11-1, charged to the lead from the start and pulled the field through an opening quarter mile in 23.77. Sassy Sienna took the lead in the backstretch and led through a half in 47.87, with Secret Passion one-half length behind in second. Tyfosha was a length farther back in third, a head in front of Red Ruby. Cosmic Burst, the morning-line favorite, was in fifth, another head back.

Cosmic Burst trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said the race was nowhere near his filly's best effort.

"You can make a lot of excuses, but in the end, you got beat," he said. "That's racing."

Sassy Sienna, with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens aboard, led Red Ruby by 1½ lengths through three-quarters in 1:12.63, and one-half length as she turned into the homestretch on the sloppy track.

Red Ruby pulled even with 1/16th of a mile left and continued forward to win by 2½ lengths.

"It was a great, beautiful trip," Albarado said. "She put me where I needed to be the entire race. She is so special. She put a lot of confidence in me since Day One.

"She kind of validated who I thought she was. Kellyn did a great job getting her ready after this layoff. She was a little keen today, but I think it was part of the layoff. I mean, when she took off, she took off."

Stevens said the wet surface had no ill effect on Sassy Sienna.

"She handled the track well, did everything right," Stevens said. "The winner's a nice filly and did better on the day. My filly should improve on the day. No excuses. She ran well."

Gorder said Red Ruby's work over a wet track -- on Jan. 28 when she breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01.2 -- left him calm as rain fell throughout Friday night and into Saturday.

"She's trained on an off track here, and she handled that beautifully, so I wasn't concerned at all," Gorder said.

The only concern came late, but it was overcome.

"Her behavior threw a curve at me," Albarado said. "I'd be lying if I said anything else. It was out of character for her, but from gate to wire, she was a consummate professional, and she ran up to our expectations. She's always been special, and she's on the right path. She's right there with the best fillies I've ridden."

Sports on 02/11/2018

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