06/06/2009 12:00AM

Acoma gets a perfect trip in Mint Julep


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Grade 3 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap on Saturday came down to a pair of 4-year-old fillies exiting subpar efforts in Grade 1 events. In the final yards, Acoma held off Pure Clan by a neck, leaving the other four fillies and mares well behind in the $109,000 turf race at Churchill Downs.

Acoma, a distant third as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom in April in her last start, got a cagey ride in the 1 1/16-mile fixture from Corey Lanerie, splitting rivals after turning for home and getting the jump on Pure Clan. She opened a clear lead approaching the eighth pole, then had enough left to post her seventh victory, including five in graded stakes, from 11 career starts.

"It worked out perfectly," Lanerie said.

Bred and owned by Helen Groves and her daughter, Helen Alexander, Acoma returned $5 as the favorite after finishing in 1:43.10 over a firm course. She got two pounds from Pure Clan, the 122-pound highweight and 5-2 second choice. Pure Clan was making her first start since finishing 10th and last in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in October.

Acoma, said winning trainer David Carroll, "is a beautiful filly. Corey gave her a great ride."

Tizaqueena, a five-time winner from just six starts, finished third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Pure Clan. Then came Day of Victory, Closeout, and In My Glory. Sugar Baby Love was an early scratch.

In My Glory set the early pace in the 33rd Mint Julep with splits of 24.51 and 49.12 seconds, with Tizaqueena always poised to strike. Leaving the quarter pole, after Tizaqueena had gone to a short-lived lead, Acoma, always comfortable while saving ground a few lengths off the leaders, suddenly entered contention, getting through at a crucial point and spurting clear to what proved an insurmountable advantage.

"The pace wasn't real fast, and she was in the perfect position the whole way," Lanerie said. "When we turned for home, I was looking for Tizaqueena. I figured she would be running and I could follow, and I hoped that something would open. I pointed her to the hole, and she took me right in there."

Acoma, by Empire Maker out of Aurora, earned $66,905 to lift her career bankroll to $597,165. Carroll said the Beverly D. on Aug. 8 at Arlington Park probably is her primary summer goal.