A great game plan means little without execution. For one Thoroughbred racing team, the grade 1 Cotillion on September 23 was kinda like that Jack Nicholson movie…As good as it gets.
Coming into this $1 million foray for three-year-old fillies, questions abounded about Ceiling Crusher. A hot horse from the West Coast with plenty to prove, trainer Doug O’Neill felt as though the time was right to run her against some of the best in her division. Yes, she was fresh off an impressive six-length score in the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar and had won five of her six career starts by a combined 43 ¾ lengths, but could this daughter of Mr. Big swim through these shark-infested grade 1 waters?
Having never raced outside the Golden State, this California-bred was flying across the country to Pennsylvania. Obviously the travel was a concern and Mother Nature was also in the mix as rain and an off-track presented another challenge. That combined with some super accomplished opponents in Kentucky Oaks and Acorn champion Pretty Mischievous, Monmouth Oaks champ Occult, and three-time Stakes winner Hoosier Philly, meant there were great whites in the deep here.
Masterfully formulating a plan for his fleet-footed filly, O’Neill went about the business that has made him one of the top conditioners in the game. Keeping his Crusher comfortable and calm with familiar faces, the winner of over 2,800 races knew his runner was coming in right.
When the gates opened Ceiling Crusher immediately broke to the lead on the sloppy track as planned. Relaxing early under jockey Edwin Maldonado, this granddaughter of Indian Charlie got into a rhythm while turning in solid fractions (23.31 opening quarter mile, 47.64 half mile). Turning for home still on the lead, Ceiling Crusher spurted to a two-and-a-half length lead. The question here was could the California shipper hold off the on-rushing competition?
Churning for the wire under a masterful ride, O’Neill’s charge was still facing the onslaught of the hugely talented Pretty Mischievous. As the Kentucky Oaks winner gobbled up ground inside the final furlong we found out a little something-something about Ceiling Crusher. Digging in like a furry-footed burrower, the Crusher simply refused to let her opponent by. Somehow finding more in her tank, Ceiling Crusher won by a heroic half-length.
“She handled everything perfectly”, says O’Neill. “She’s the kind of horse that makes you want to jump out of bed and head to the barn. I am not sure if we have gotten to the bottom of her but I do know she is a grade 1 winner.”
Team O’Neill went on the road with a plan and a very talented filly Crushed it.