11/21/2009 12:00AM

Acoma wins stretch battle in Cardinal

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Acoma (left) duels with You Go West Girl on her way to victory in Saturday's Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Acoma probably earned herself another year of racetrack life when she bounced back from two last-place finishes to post a hard-fought victory Saturday in the 36th running of the at Churchill Downs.

With Jesus Castanon riding for trainer David Carroll, Acoma outnodded You Go West Girl following a torrid duel through the final furlong of the Cardinal, a 1 1/8-mile turf race contested by nine fillies and mares.

"After this, we probably will go on and run her another year," said Helen Alexander, who co-bred and co-owns Acoma with her mother, Helen Groves. "She'll get a little holiday after this, and then she'll probably go back into training in January."

Acoma returned $9.40 as second choice after finishing in 1:50.02 over a turf course rated firm. You Go West Girl, a New York-bred ridden by Jose Lezcano, was just a head behind the winner and another 3 1/4 lengths before Lemon Chiffon, the lukewarm 7-2 choice. Then came Long Approach, My Baby Baby, Social Queen, Leamington, Tizfiz, and Zaskar.

Zaskar set the pace, with Leamington, My Baby Baby, and Lemon Chiffon in closest pursuit, but by the eighth pole, it was apparent that the simultaneous rallies by Acoma and You Go West Girl would decide the outcome. They battled to the wire, with Acoma, racing outside her rival, narrowly prevailing.

Acoma, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly out of the major producer Aurora, now has won eight races, including six stakes, from 14 overall starts. After winning the Grade 3 Mint Julep here in the spring, she had run poorly in her next two races, the Delaware Handicap and First Lady at Keeneland.

Carroll, based at Churchill, said before the Cardinal that he was "more hopeful than confident," but his spirits were soaring in the winner's circle. "Home sweet home," he said.

One race earlier, Custom for Carlos ($3.40) cruised to a 3 3/4-length victory under Jose Lezcano in the $58,400 Bet on Sunshine, a six-furlong overnight stakes completed in a swift 1:09.71 over a fast main track. Eddie Kenneally trains the 3-year-old More Than Ready colt for the partnership of Homewrecker Racing and Avalon Farms.

Kenneally will take Custom for Carlos to his winter grounds, the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida, when pointing the colt to what he hopes will be a berth in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill.