Phil Sims says he is still trying to recover from the stress of his first venture to Santa Anita Park last month. And in the aftermath of the whirlwind Breeders' Cup World Championships, the Kentucky-based trainer figured the mare who prompted the cross-country trip to California would be most in need of some quiet time.
Don't Tell Sophia has gotten far by getting Sims to heed her demands. So when the 6-year-old daughter of Congaree bounced out of her runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Distaff like a horse looking for another stretch to run through, Sims scrapped the R&R and dutifully gave in.
Grade I winner Don't Tell Sophia heads a field of 10 fillies and mares entered for Thursday's Grade II, $200,000-added Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Her rallying, second-place finish behind probable divisional champion Untapable in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 31 was the sixth start for Don't Tell Sophia this year and marked the 14th straight race in which she has finished than third or better.
Sims, who co-owns the comely bay mare along with Jerry Namy, had planned on giving his star some time off. But many believe in running them when they're right, and Don't Tell Sophia has never been as good as she has been recently.
"After the Breeders' Cup, (the Falls City) wasn't really our plan but she's doing so darn well right now that we thought we might as well strike while the iron is hot," Sims said. "She hasn't missed a beat since (the Distaff) and she's just chomping to do something again. In fact, the trip bothered me a lot more than it did her. I'm still worn out from it, but she was like, 'OK, what's next?'"
Since running second in last year's 11⁄8-mile Falls City, Don't Tell Sophia has taken what was already graded stakes-winning form and built it to a level that could land her on the Eclipse Award ballot as a finalist for champion older female this season.
Since returning from a quarter crack that sidelined her from late March until early September, Don't Tell Sophia has won the Locust Grove at Churchill on Sept. 6, defeating the likes of Grade I winner On Fire Baby and fellow Falls City entrant Molly Morgan, before breaking through with her victory in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 5.
Her big stride, which always comes with a strong finish, nearly pulled a last-to-first rally in the Breeders' Cup. Circling five-wide around the final turn under jockey Joe Rocco Jr., Don't Tell Sophia dispatched fellow Grade I winners Belle Gallantey, Close Hatches and Iotapa before coming up 11/4 lengths short of the brilliant 3-year-old filly Untapable.
"She tells me when she's ready and what she wants to do and that's probably the secret to her longevity," Sims said of the mare he purchased for $1,000 when she was a yearling. "And she didn't race much as a youngster so she hasn't been overraced. There are only so many races in them."
Installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite, Don't Tell Sophia has three wins in four starts over the Churchill Downs main track. She was fifth in a turf race at Churchill, the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes in 2011.
Molly Morgan, the 4-1 second choice, has her own history of success beneath the Twin Spires. She won the Grade II Chilukki at Churchill on Nov. 1 and was dominant in taking the Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap going 11⁄8 miles on June 14.
Stonestreet Stables homebred Teen Pauline won the Grade II Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct this March and will be making her second start after a seven-month layoff in Thursday's Falls City.