OCEANPORT – Elizabeth Merryman isn’t convinced she has seen the best from Caravel, a 4-year-old filly she bred, owns and trains.
But she is hoping Friday’s inaugural $75,000 Goldwood Stakes at Monmouth Park is another step toward finding out where the ceiling is for a turf specialist she feels will be the best horse she has ever had, according to a press release.
“This race will tell me a lot,” said Merryman. “A month from now there are four filly and mare turf sprints within a five-day period. There’s one at Colonial (the Andy Guest on July 26), one at Saratoga (the Grade 3 Caress on July 24), one at Woodbine (the Grade 2 Royal North on Aug. 1) and one at Pimlico. This will give me an indication (of where to go next).
“There’s a really good filly in this race (Miss Auramet) who has done nothing wrong that she has not run against yet. So we’ll see.”
The Goldwood, set for five furlongs on the grass, has attracted a field of eight and headlines a six-race twilight card on June 25.
Miss Aurament, trained by Kathleen O’Connell, comes off an impressive win in the slop in the Politely Stakes on May 30 at Monmouth Park. That race was originally scheduled for the turf.
Caravel’s credentials, though, stack up with any of the fillies or mares in the race. She is 5 for 7 lifetime with two thirds, with her only defeats coming on a yielding turf and a good turf.
The Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Mizzen Mast-ZeeZee ZoomZoom by Congrats was set to go in Tuesday’s Power By Far Stakes at Parx until the race was taken off the turf.
“Her training hasn’t been smooth to this race since we were supposed to go Tuesday,” said Merryman, whose 14-horse stable is based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. “We’ll see how she handles the adversity, with everything not being quite right.”
Merryman was convinced there was something special about Caravel from the outset and chose not to rush her as a 2-year-old, allowing her to go through a series of growth spurts before hitting the racetrack.
Her anticipated debut hardly went as planned, however. She broke 10th and last in a five-furlong Maiden Special Weight turf dash at Penn National on June 20 last year. And then something remarkable happened. She rallied from last for most of the race to win going away by 1¼ lengths.
“Not only did she break last, she was steadily dropping back,” said Merryman. “I was watching the race thinking ‘My gosh, I really like this filly. How can she be this bad? How can I be so wrong?’ And then it just clicked for her. It was amazing to see.
“The thing is, she has always been good from the gate. I think she was just caught off guard.”
Caravel went on to win four of her five starts at 3 years old and is coming off a victory in the Very One Stakes at Pimlico on May 14 in her second start at 4 years old.
“She has come back a little bigger and stronger,” said Merryman, who has been training since 2004. “She carries a bit more weight now and looks a little more robust.”
A winner of $212,872 from her seven career starts, Caravel drew post position 1 for the Goldwood Stakes.
“The post is not a big deal with her. She kind of dictates what she wants to do,” said Merryman. “You don’t have to send her and you don’t have to take her back. You just have to sit as chilly as possible and let her tell you where she wants to be.”