Happy Mesa Rallies from Far Back to Take $100,000 Hilltop

BALTIMORE – Racing in Maryland for the first time since her lone previous stakes victory last fall, Green Point Stables, Highclere America and Zoom & Fish Stable’s Happy Mesa came flying with a rally on the far outside and approached a Pimlico Race Course track record to win Friday’s $100,000 Hilltop by a length.
             
The 45th running of the Hilltop for 3-year-old fillies marked the third consecutive victory for Hall of Fame-elect jockey Javier Castellano and second straight stakes, following Shaman Ghost in the $300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3).
             
Happy Mesa ($9.60), based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. with trainer Graham Motion – winner of the 2015 Hilltop with Miss Temple City – ran one mile over a firm turf course in 1:33.61, just .19 off the course mark set by North East Bound in 2000. The Hilltop had previously been run at 1 1/16 miles.
            
Live Oak Plantation’s Victory to Victory, made the 8-5 favorite off two straight wins, including the 2016 Natalma (G1) last fall, was sharp leading the field through swift fractions of 22.78 seconds, 45.93 and 1:09.44 with 17-1 long shot Dynatail on her right flank. Happy Mesa settled far back before circling the field and powering past her rivals down the center of the track.
             
Compelled was second, a head in front of Dynatail, with Victory to Victory another 1 ¼ lengths back in fourth.
             
Happy Mesa, a 3-year-old Sky Mesa filly, won the 5 ½-furlong Selima Stakes at Laurel Park in September 2016, her second straight win to open her career.
                 
HILLTOP STAKES QUOTES
 
Winning Trainer Graham Motion (Happy Mesa): “After Florida we decided to point for this race and give her the time. She’s very honest, this filly. She’s very game. I don’t think Gulfstream was exactly her spot, but I give the owners a lot of credit. They wanted to run in this spot. I think this mile might be a really good distance for her. I’m not certain how much farther she wants to go.”
 
Winning Jockey Javier Castellano (Happy Mesa): “She was very impressive and broke very well. I give all the credit to Graham Motion and the owners who told me how to ride the horse. They gave me some tips, I put it together and it worked out great. There was a lot of speed in the race, so I took back and saved ground. I felt it was a hot pace, so I took my time. It paid off today.”
 
Jockey Florent Geroux (Beaten favorite Victory to Victory, 4th): “I got some pressure from [Orlando Bocachica on Dynatail] on the outside and she was okay, but going a little fast. I thought it was a bit quick, but (trainer) Mark (Casse) said maybe not, because (Dynatail) kept running. She might need a target.”