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The following post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.

Although the victory by Emma’s Encore in the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont on July 7 was considered a fluke in some quarters because heavy favorite Agave Kiss was burnt to a crisp in a fierce speed duel, Emma’s Encore came back on Saturday to stamp herself as the leading sprint filly of her age group with a narrow success in the G1 Prioress at Saratoga.

In the Prioress, Emma’s Encore won by a nose in the final yards of the race, as she ran widest of all to catch the Ghostzapper filly Judy the Beauty. The latter had gotten first run to pass front-running Agave Kiss and nearly held off the charge of Emma’s Encore.

That filly’s encore success in a graded stakes came without the pace pressure that had appeared to compromise Agave Kiss in the Victory Ride. As a result, this race, although resulting in a narrower margin of victory, was even more emphatically a measure of the quality that Emma’s Encore possesses.

The Florida-bred bay is from the second crop by the A.P. Indy stallion Congrats and is his third G1 winner, following Turbulent Descent (Santa Anita Oaks, Test, and Hollywood Starlet) and Wickedly Perfect (Alcibiades Stakes).

Bred by Claiborne Farm and raced by that historic farm through most of his time on the track, Congrats is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Praise and has one of the grandest female families in the stud book, tracing back through stakes winner Wild Applause (by Northern Dancer and dam of four stakes winners), stakes-winning third dam Glowing Tribute (Graustark, seven stakes winners, including Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero), stakes-winning fourth dam Admiring (Hail to Reason, one stakes winner), stakes-winning fifth dam Searching (War Admiral, three stakes winners, including champion Affectionately and Futurity winner Priceless Gem), stakes-winning sixth dam Big Hurry (Black Toney, five stakes winners), and seventh dam La Troienne (five stakes winners).

When Claiborne chose to stand the full brother Flatter and sell Congrats, it didn’t take Florida horseman Brent Fernung long to see that this horse would bring a deeper dimension of blood and potential to the Florida market. Fernung immediately encouraged Cloverleaf Farm owner John Sykes to buy the horse, and that decision has paid dividends ever since.

Although Sykes chose to close the Cloverleaf stallion operation and move Congrats to Vinery Florida, when the big bay son of A.P. Indy broke through with his first crop and became the leading freshman sire in the country for 2010, the 16.2-hand Congrats made the van ride back to the bluegrass for 2011, where he stands at Vinery and covered a full book for a $35,000 fee in 2012.

The stallion’s great looks and presence were the motivating factors for Equest Thoroughbreds to breed the Prioress winner. Greg and Beth Fowler breed under the name Equest. Greg is a veterinarian in the Ocala area, and Beth primarily pinhooks young horses from their 100-acre farm north of Ocala.

Beth saw Congrats at a stallion show and recalled him as “gorgeous and correct. I knew immediately that I wanted to breed to him.”

Then she sent the “only mare I purchased on purpose for breeding” to the stallion. Primarily a pinhooker, Fowler was at the 2000 Keeneland November sale looking at weanlings and followed a Rahy filly to the ring to see if she could buy her.

As part of her due diligence, Fowler looked at the filly’s dam, the Wild Again mare French Opera, who was selling as the preceding lot in the sale, and when Fowler returned to the back ring with a purchase slip, Beth’s husband thought she had purchased the weanling. She said, “He wasn’t too happy that I bought the mare instead.”

French Opera was a “very dark mare with a star,” much like her famous sire Wild Again, “and she was average height and very stocky.”

This medium-sized, powerfully built mare is apparently the right type for Congrats, who sired his two other G1 winners out of mares by Storm Cat stallions that tend to be powerful horses. And Emma’s Encore is the best racer out of her dam, who also produced stakes-placed Bertha Jo (Banker’s Gold).

All but one of the foals out of French Opera are winners, and the youngest is a 2-year-old filly by D’Wildcat who recently won her début at Calder. Named D Prairie Cat, this juvenile is the last foal out of French Opera, who “died last year due to colic,” Fowler reported.

The Fowlers sold Emma’s Encore as Hip 4203 at the 2010 Keeneland September sale, when Congrats was clearly going to be a better stallion than the average, for only $2,000. That was a major loss on all the expenses associated with raising and preparing a young athlete, but Fowler said, “the filly was very popular, and if she’d had clean x-rays she’d have sold very, very well, but most buyers just walked away” because the vet report wasn’t pristine.

After the long trip from Ocala to Lexington, “we decided to go home with an empty trailer,” Fowler said, and “I’m glad this has worked out well for the new owners.”

Emma’s Encore was purchased at Keeneland by Ulrich Racing and ran in the name of Brenda Mercer until Peter Berglar purchased a half-interest in the filly. Emma’s Encore now has won four of 10 starts and earned $342,958.

Her dam French Opera was unplaced in her only start but is a full sister to Brazilian group stakes winner Wild Emotions.

La Reine Rouge, the third dam of Emma’s Encore, produced stakes winners Green Alligator (Gate Dancer, G3 California Derby) and Lucky Lavender Gal (Carson City). The latter’s full sister is La Ville Rouge, who placed in four graded stakes, earned $262,594, and produced Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

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