Trainer John Shirreffs knows better than anyone how much one can benefit by recognizing a good thing and not doing anything rash to mess it up.
As he has done with a certain other dark bay distaffer in his barn, Shirreffs wasn't afraid to give Harmonious all the time she needed to grow into her rangy frame and get used to life on the track.
Six starts into her career, the 3-year-old daughter of Dynaformer is the latest testament to what a little patience and perspective can do for a horse.
Less than seven months after making her debut on the track, the headstrong Harmonious is an emerging starlet. She overtook pace-setter Dade Babe at the top of the stretch and drew off for a 41/4-length win over Zagora in Saturday's Grade I, $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on the Keeneland turf.
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Like her famed stablemate, undefeated champion Zenyatta, Harmonious went unraced as a 2-year-old. She didn't make her first start until April 25, when she finished fifth in a 61/2-furlong maiden test on the main track at Hollywood Park.
That extra time given by Shirreffs and owners Pam, Marty, and Emily Wygod has resulted in a filly with four wins, including two Grade I stakes, to her credit — and enough raw ability to blow away one of the stronger QEII fields in recent years.
"I always think, if you know you have something special, don't risk taking anything away from them until they're ready to do it," said the California-based Shirreffs, who was saddling a horse at Keeneland for the first time in his career. "Just be patient and don't risk anything that might compromise their ultimate ability.
"She's a Dynaformer, so you know she can get hard to handle. But given time and patience, she's learned to channel it all."
Harmonious notched a 11/4-length victory in the Grade I American Oaks on July 3 — just her fourth career start — but in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks in August, she showed why she was given a more generous learning curve at the start.
During her runner-up finish behind fellow QEII entrant Evening Jewel that day, Harmonious darted sharply toward the outside rail in the stretch but still got beat by only half a length.
Such youthful antics gave way to obvious skill on Saturday. Sent off as the 5-2 favorite with Joel Rosario aboard her for the first time, Harmonious sat unhurried in second as Dade Babe cut fractions of :23.13 and :47.17 through the opening half.
Harmonious and Evening Jewel — who had been tracking in third — ranged up on either side of the pace-setter coming off the far turn, but it was Harmonious who found her best turn of foot on the outside path as she covered the 11⁄8-mile race in 1:49.14 over a course rated firm.
"I thought she was 8-10 lengths the best in her last race, but she went to the outside fence," Marty Wygod said. "We were very confident in her today. Joel said the filly was just playing with him.
"John (Shirreffs) is very high on her, and he knows what a champion is."
Zagora, who was making her United States debut after beginning her career in France, closed from last in the eight-horse field to get second with multiple Grade I winner Evening Jewel a half length back in third.
Evening Jewel, runner-up in this year's Kentucky Oaks, had been unbeaten in three starts on the turf.
"I think she ran well; she just got a little tired," said Jim Cassidy, trainer of Evening Jewel. "I'll have a discussion with the owner tonight, and we'll talk about maybe putting her back on dirt for the (Breeders' Cup) Ladies' Classic."
Though Shirreffs was non-committal on whether Harmonious would turn up for Breeders' Cup day at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, he probably wouldn't have to push the Wygods much to make an appearance this year.
They, along with Shirreffs, won the Ladies' Classic last year with Life Is Sweet. Of course, as far as Harmonious is concerned, they aren't going to rush her into anything she isn't ready for.
"I have to talk with Marty, but she can run on anything," Shirreffs said. "She just has one of those really big strides and is a filly with a lot of talent."