Always Shopping wins the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack
· By Bob Ehalt
The ever-increasing role that spacing of races is playing in the sport was vividly reflected after a victory by Always Shopping in the $300,000 Gazelle Stakes (G2) April 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
In a perfect world, owner Mike Repole might wait two months for Always Shopping's next race, just as he and trainer Todd Pletcher did when the 3-year-old filly went from a maiden win in the Feb. 3 Busanda Stakes to skipping the March 9 Busher Invitational to posting a 1 3/4-length victory in the Gazelle.
But when the logical race four weeks away is the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), then there is surely sufficient cause to run back in a month.
"(The Oaks) is a special race," Repole said, "and we have to make a decision. We have spaced her races out strategically. We scratched out of the Busher, and that's hard to do when your horse is doing well and is 5-2. If we win the Gazelle, we look really, really smart. If we lose, we look dumb. Everything pieced together today, and we'll make a decision. It's hard to pass up the Oaks, but when you bring 50 family members to a race, it's expensive."
The Gazelle assured Always Shopping of a spot in the Kentucky Oaks; she picked up 100 points and now ranks second on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 110 total.
The rest of the race's qualifying points on a 40-20-10 scale went to Positive Spirit, who was second, followed by Off Topic and Proud Emma. Favored Expresso Shot was fifth.
As for Always Shopping, her victory Saturday came at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, which was important to Pletcher.
"She's made improvement in each start," Pletcher said after the homebred daughter of Awesome Again out of stakes-winning the More Than Ready mare Stopshoppingmaria notched her second straight win and first graded stakes triumph. The first graded winner out of Stopshoppingmaria, who produced fillies by Uncle Mo in 2017 and 2018 and was bred to Medaglia d'Oro for 2019, Always Shopping now has two wins from five starts, with earnings of $252,000.
"The key is if she can continue to move forward," Pletcher said. "She's proved that two turns, a mile and an eighth, is her thing."
Always Shopping rallied from midpack in the Busanda but was second in the Gazelle behind Positive Spirit, who reeled off soft splits of :24.92, :50.09, and 1:14.95. Repole's filly dueled with the early leader from the quarter pole until the eighth pole, when she drew clear under Manny Franco. Final time for the race was 1:52.91.
"We let Manny do his thing," Pletcher said. "He put her in a good spot, she put him in a good spot. He said he felt like he had a lot of horse the whole way. I think she'll be better off with a pace where she can settle in and make one run. We're proud of her."
Proud enough to run in the Kentucky Oaks? Probably. Even Mike Repole knows that a chance to win a race as prestigious as the Kentucky Oaks does not come around too often.