04/30/2004 11:00PM

Argent Mortgage: Shaconage pulls an upset

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Mitch Shirota has been running horses at Churchill Downs for 20 years and had never won a stakes race over his home track. But he couldn't have picked a more memorable afternoon to finally break the ice, sending out Shaconage to upset 3-5 favorite Etoile Montante in the $100,000 .

Shaconage, a 4-year-old daughter of El Prado, had lost in allowance races in her last three starts and hadn't won since capturing Woodbine's Ontario Colleen Handicap in August. Etoile Montante, on the other hand, was a Group 1 winner in France at 3 and had captured Santa Anita's Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap in her 2004 debut.

Sand Springs set an honest early pace in the one-mile Argent Mortgage, cutting out fractions of 23.78 seconds, 47.28, and 1:11.82 over a course listed as good. Etoile Montante raced within striking distance of the leader and seized command near the inside after Sand Springs bore out entering the stretch.

Jockey Jerry Bailey eased Etoile Montante off the hedge for the stretch run, leaving an opening for Brice Blanc and Shaconage, who had lagged during the early stages but was in high gear leaving the final turn. Etoile Montante held on stubbornly through the final sixteenth only to be nipped by Shaconage in the final stride.

Shaconage paid $40.60 after negotiating the distance in 1:36.10.

"This was the first stakes winner I've had in the 20 years I've been coming here, and to get it on Derby Day is even more special," said Shirota. "Give my jockey a lot of credit. He rode a perfect race." - Mike Welsch