Moving on past tough moments is a prerequisite for those involved in the Thoroughbred industry. The last seven days, however, have featured some particularly hard emotions for trainer Bill Mott to swallow.
Two days after his multiple Grade I-winning charge Close Hatches finished a dull fourth in the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster last Sunday, Mott learned that racing legend Cigar, the best horse he's ever conditioned, had passed away from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck.
As the seven-horse field for Saturday's Grade I, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup settled in for the stretch run, the bloodlines that have provided Mott with years of spectacular results provided a touch of salve for a difficult week.
Crown Queen, the half sister to multiple Eclipse Award winner and former Mott-trainee Royal Delta, joined her sibling as a top-level winner when she collared pacesetter Sea Queen in midstretch and held off a determined charge from Ball Dancing to take the 31st edition of the QEII by three-quarters of a length over the Keeneland turf.
If ever there was a family that has been good to Mott, it is the one Crown Queen carries forward. Not only did Mott train Royal Delta to two Breeders' Cup Distaff victories and three Eclipse Award honors, he conditioned their dam, multiple graded stakes winner Delta Princess.
Where her champion big sister was strictly a dirt runner, Crown Queen takes after her late mother with her affinity for the turf. The 3-year-old daughter of Smart Strike handled the soft ground with no issue Saturday, nimbly skipping over the rain-soaked grass to earn her fourth straight win from six career starts all on the turf.
"This one tastes pretty good," Mott declared after the race. "We had a 1-9 shot (Close Hatches) beat here last week but we've had a lot of faith in this filly and we believed in her. She came through for us.
"It's a really nice opportunity when you get to train the families. I was very gifted for (owner) Ben Leon to give me Royal Delta and turn this filly over to me. He had a lot of faith in Royal Delta and this filly as well. And it's turned out very well."
The same could be said of owner Leon's aggressive swings in the auction arena.
Leon purchased Royal Delta for $8.5 million at the 2011 Keeneland November Breeding sale, the same auction where he went to $1.6 million to obtain Crown Queen.
After a pair of third-place runs during her 2-year-old season last year, the dark bay filly had a couple of bone chips removed. She returned to break her maiden at Belmont Park this June by 21/2 lengths followed by a 4-length triumph the next month against allowance company.
The same acceleration Crown Queen showed in winning the Grade II Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 16 was in effect during the 11⁄8-mile QEII as jockey John Velazquez got her into contention in the outside path in third after breaking last out of post No. 8.
When Sea Queen began to give way following a half in 48.80, Crown Queen went by Grade I winner Minorette to her inside around the final turn and dug in with new authority when Ball Dancing came at her flank in mid-stretch.
"It worked out perfect," said Velazquez, who has won four of the six Grade I races held during this Keeneland meet. "She broke a little bit slow but that was to my advantage. I got her to relax the first part of the race and got into a nice rhythm down the backside.
"Once she took the lead at the three-sixteenths, she started waiting a little bit. I moved my way out a bit so she could feel the other horse and she put in a really good fight."
Sent off as the 5-to-2 favorite, Crown Queen covered the distance in 1:49.98 over a course rated soft. Ball Dancing held for second with Sistas Stroll and Personal Diary finishing in a dead-heat for third.
"Turning for home, I was really excited," said Joe Bravo, jockey for Ball Dancing. "I looked over and Johnny's horse (Crown Queen) was more excited."
Both Leon and Mott were non committal when asked about the chances of running Crown Queen back in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1. What Leon was certain of is that his investment in that family will be enjoyed on the track at least for another season.
"She's answered every question we've ever had," Leon said of Crown Queen. "Now it's a question of sitting back and enjoying her. I'm looking forward to her 4-year-old year next year. That should be her exceptional year."
■ Note: The original field of nine featured two scratches in Daring Dancer and Aurelia's Belle.