The $150,000 Galway Stakes Aug. 11 presented a rematch between Coronation Cup runner-up Poppy Flower and winner Empress Tigress, but it was Arnmore Thoroughbreds' Poppy Flower that came out on top this time around in the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for sophomore fillies.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the daughter of Lea scored the second stakes victory of her career and second win since joining Mott in May after ending her juvenile campaign in October under the care of Wesley Ward. Now boasting a 3-for-4 on-the-board record for her new conditioner, Poppy Flower earned another stakes score after taking the Stormy Blues Stakes earlier this spring at Laurel Park.
Emerging from the inside post with returning jockey Jose Ortiz up, Poppy Flower broke quickly but relaxed along the rail and eased back to the rear of the field. Empress Tigress, with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard, ran up to sit just a half-length off the pace set by Delmona through an opening quarter-mile in :22.25 over the firm turf.
With positions largely unchanged through a half-mile in :44.87, Empress Tigress overtook the lead as the field of nine fillies straightened for the drive home. Poppy Flower, who was swung to the outside by Ortiz, charged with a furious turn of foot down the center of the racetrack to inhale a strong Empress Tigress and tiring Delmona to score the win by a length in a final time of 1:02.09.
Last out in the Coronation Cup, Poppy Flower and Empress Tigress ran nearly identical races to their Galway efforts, but the former came up just shy by a half-length.
Ortiz said Empress Tigress faced less pressure in the Coronation Cup where she was able to take a 3 1/2-length advantage at the stretch call.
"I think (Poppy Flower) ran good, but the winner, Empress Tigress, is a nice filly also. That day, she got away with a nice lead," said Ortiz. "But today, (Delmona) came out running and paid the price in the end for Empress Tigress. Nothing against her—if she got an easy lead today, she probably would have won again. She ran a good race and is a very nice filly also. The race played different today."
Mott said he had confidence in Ortiz to ride the race as it unfolded.
"I gave him no instructions. He rode her last time and rode her well," said Mott. "We thought maybe we'd be a little bit closer to the pace today, and she broke well and she was up there for a few strides, but she just wanted to settle and he let her do what she wanted to do. He let her pace herself and sometimes you're better off letting the horse do what they want to do rather than make them do something we want to make them do.
"It was an honest enough pace or they wouldn't have been that far in front of them," added Mott. "When you're in this kind of race and you come from behind, it's all about the trip. We know she can run, but she got the good trip."
Ortiz said he decided to swing to the middle of the track to give Poppy Flower the best chance to run her race.
"I could have waited longer to see if something opened up inside, but I felt like there was a blanket of horses and I didn't want to be a hero," said Ortiz. "I knew I had a lot of horse underneath of me and she always finishes well, so I wanted to have a clean run home. I didn't want to have any excuses. She came home flying."
Returning $10.40 on a $2 win wager, Poppy Flower boosted her total purse earnings to $340,520. She was bred in Kentucky by Brenda Harding and Megan Jones out of the Excellent Art mare Nisharora and was a $9,500 RNA from Denali Stud's consignment to the 2020 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale.