A few minutes after 4 years Mandatory picked up the first win of his career as a freshman on May 7 at Churchill Fallscoach Bill Mott paused mid-sentence as he answered questions and pointed to the jumbotron.
“Look at this. Just look at this race,” Mott told reporters in quiet admiration as the filly’s late run to the wire in the $750,000 Derby City Distaff presented by Kendall-Jackson Winery (G1) was replayed on the screens for the crowd.
“She just keeps coming. I mean, it was awesome,” Mott said. “I was impressed, and very rarely am I impressed.”
High praise from the Hall of Fame coach who has seen his fair share of greats.
Among the favorite runners in the seven-horse field, Obligatory entered the Derby City Distaff after winning the March 12 Hurricane Bertie Stakes (G1) at Gulfstream Park at the start of the season. But when the gate opened and the race began, the flashy gray filly fell to the back of the pack and settled well off the pace of her competitors. To the lay observer, the movement seemed contrary. But for Mott, it was up to what he expected from his filly.
“She loves the stretch run here,” Mott said. “I reminded him (jockey Jose Ortiz) – but I didn’t have to remind him – that his stretch run here is his weapon.”
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Dragging the ground well away from the rail along the back, Obligatory did their best to avoid eating too much dirt from their competitors while biding their time. At the head of the peloton, a very different strategy was being played out with the leader Just once who had taken the lead from the break and led the peloton through fractions of: 22.36 and: 44.95 for the half mile. Pressing the leader early was border and central aisle who stayed within half a length of Just One Time along the back stretch as they battled for second and third.
But at the quarter pole, Edgeway and Center Aisle appeared to run out of gas and rolled back into the field. The opening allowed Four Graces the chance to switch from one horse to another and to pass second. Not wanting to give in, Just One Time fought towards the finish under Flavien Prat.
Singularly focused on the wire, both men were unprepared to fend off Obligatory who moved six wide into the lane and hammered home with a huge late kick. With a clear path to the finish line, Obligatory stormed into Just One Time and then caught up with another late challenger, Four Graces, to claim the title by three quarter lengths. The final time for the seven-stadium dirt test was 1:22.17.
Obligatory’s Connections celebrate winning the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs
“I never felt confident until they hit the 70-yard mark,” Mott said. “But I saw she was running. When she was on three-eighth pole and the others were on quarter pole, I said, ‘We have a lot to make up for.’ She was still quite far behind and she made up a lot of ground.”
Four Graces held for second 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Just One Time in third.
“She tried very hard,” said Julien Leparoux, who was aboard the Four Graces. “The race went perfectly for us. She sat up really early for me, did a big run and never gave up. She fought back but was only second best today.
“I really thought we had it inside the 1/16th post,” Four Graces coach Ian Wilkes said. “She ran such a great race.”
“She’s a very nice mare,” Ortiz said. “I feel like she’s getting better and better. I just waited and let her take her own pace. They were going really fast up front. I was sitting in the back of the peloton. I didn’t want to sweep it away. I was very happy with the trip I had. I swung a bit wide because I felt like I had enough (horse).”
If her stretch run is Obligatory’s weapon, then Churchill Downs is the terrain she wields it best on. The Derby City Distaff was the third victory under the historic Twin Spiers for the filly, who won the Eight Belles Stakes Presented by Smithfield (G2) and Chilukki Stakes (G3) at the track in 2021.
Already the winner of several ranked stakes, a Grade 1 score had eluded Obligatory on three previous attempts ahead of Saturday’s Derby City Distaff. At 3, the Curling filly finished second in the Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park and the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx Racingas well as fifth in the Longines Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Racetrack. Mott said he knew that if ever there was a place for Mandatory to earn a Grade 1, Churchill would be the likely place.
“A (Grade 1) is the goal. She won a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 and she’s a fine filly,” Mott said. “But the goal, if they’re good enough, is to get a grade 1 and that’s what we’ve been pointing at. She likes the track and she likes the stretch and it worked out well like in the Eight Belles and the Chilukki. She turned the corner last year here in the Eight Belles. She has steadily maintained and improved, at least maintaining this good form.
“If we were to race in the Breeders’ Cup, (racing her at Churchill) would be a bonus. For some reason she loves the track.”
When talking about the Breeders’ Cup, Mott remained cautious in his details. While he admits that the world championships are still part of the year-end plans for top horses, he does not plan to get ahead of himself.
“A lot can happen between now and then,” Mott said. “You always look at it, and I think over the course of the year, as you set a schedule, you always look at the end of the year before the end of the year.”
Born in Kentucky to Juddmonte, Obligatory is out of winning mare Macho Uno Uno Duo. Obligatory’s victory in the Derby City Distaff improved their record to 5-2-0 from 11 starts with $1,228,594 in purse prize money.