In hindsight, trainer Bill Mott tipped his hand about what was going to go down in Saturday's Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes the minute entries were taken for the race last Wednesday.
One of the most uncommon occurrences in racing is seeing Mott — the Hall of Fame trainer renowned for his patience — putting one of his runners back into a race on a mere week's rest.
"If he does it, it's because something like this is going to happen," jockey Mike Smith said shortly after climbing off the Juddmonte Farms homebred Emollient.
The "this" that fellow Hall of Famer Smith spoke of was the 9-length, gate-to-wire drubbing he and Emollient put on 12 others in the $500,000 Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. The showcase came just seven days after Emollient was beaten 30 lengths by Dreaming of Julia while running fifth in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks last Saturday.
As much as Mott and her owners were puzzled by Emollient's clunker at Gulfstream — the first time she had been off the board in five starts to that point — the way the bay daughter of Empire Maker dug into her feed and bounced out of that effort told them, if nothing else, she didn't leave anything on the track that day.
When Mott sent Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke a Monday morning text suggesting the quick turnaround, the plan that had been residing in the back of O'Rourke's mind all along surged to the forefront almost as quickly as Emollient established her dominance out of the gate Saturday.
"For some reason she never showed up last week, but she came out of the race perfect," O'Rourke said. "I had said before that race, 'You know the Empire Makers always run so well on this track (Keeneland) and ... when all that happened, on Monday Bill sent a text that said, 'Emollient for Saturday?'
"There was no reason not to do it. She gave all the right signs and we went for it. But she was way more impressive than I ever expected her to be."
Smith was handling the duties aboard 6-1 shot Emollient for the first time, and their initial pairing produced a successful new dimension to her talents. Sent to the lead for the first time in her six-race career, Emollient and Smith quickly established a 2-length advantage up front and were somehow allowed to lull their dozen challengers to sleep with fractions of :23.75 and a half in :48.12.
"(Smith) won the race in that first furlong," O'Rourke said. "I looked back after the half and saw she was still rolling and they're all struggling to catch up. At that stage, it looked like it was all over."
Sure enough, any lingering notion of suspense got the death knell when Smith let Emollient out one more notch and she opened up in her first start over a synthetic surface. Emollient covered the 11⁄16 miles in 1:43.49 with runner-up Tuttipaesi 11/4 lengths in front of stablemate Kitten's Point in third.
"I thought, at some point I'm going to try and see if I can kick this race open," said Smith, who also pilots champion mare Royal Delta for Mott. "I did just before we headed for home and ... was amazed at the burst of speed she gave me. It was a confident first step and it got just better as it went on."
Grade I winner Spring in the Air, sent off as the lukewarm 4-1 favorite, finished ninth.
"She may have bled, we'll see," trainer Mark Casse said of Spring in the Air.
A start in the Kentucky Oaks was acknowledged by O'Rourke as a logical next stop for Emollient, who does own dirt wins at Belmont last September and Gulfstream this February. And given the amount of action she just packed in the past week, having four weeks to play with until May 3 now seems a luxury.
"She has to come out of this but we've got enough time to play with between now and the Oaks," O'Rourke said. "(Assistant trainer) Rodolphe (Brisset) told me from a very early stage that this filly gives him the same feel that Royal Delta does. She might not be that level yet, but she's one step closer today."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.