Updated on 09/18/2011 12:43AM

Bushfire never looks back

Pat Lang
Bushfire and Victor Espinoza upset in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bushfire took command soon after the start and never looked back, posting a 15-1 upset Saturday over heavily favored Balance and six other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 1 at Keeneland.

Giving trainer Eddie Kenneally the biggest victory of his training career, Bushfire, owned by the Homewrecker Stable of Ricki and Ron Rashinski, returned $32.20 after prevailing by 6 1/2 lengths over Wait a While. Balance, the 1-2 favorite, was never a real threat in finishing third, another 4 1/4 lengths back.

"We knew she'd like Keeneland," said Kenneally. "It's traditionally a speed-favoring track. She's a pretty honest filly, and if you let her go early, she'll really run for you."

Breaking from the rail post in the 69th Ashland, Bushfire, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez sped off to an open lead, coasting through fractions of 23.34, 46.59, and 1:10.93. As Sweet Sugaree, her closest pursuer down the backstretch, began to fade, Wait a While closed mildly from the rail.

Trainer David Hofmans said jockey Victor Espinoza told him that Balance "just couldn't get a hold of the track. It was too deep for her."

Itty Bitty Pretty finished fourth, followed by Sweet Sugaree, Performing Diva, Saratoga Drive, and Coolwind.

Bushfire, a Florida-bred filly by Louis Quatorze, had won 3 of 5 previous starts, with the March 18 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs being her lone stakes win. She earned $310,000 from the $500,000 purse Saturday after finishing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:45.16 over a fast track.

The connections of the top two finishers said they likely will proceed to the May 5 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. "We'll see how [Bushfire] does, then give it a try if she does well," said Kenneally.

However, Hofmans was non-committal about the Oaks for Balance, saying she would return to regroup at her Southern California base.

A crowd of 21,342 turned out on an afternoon that started out very chilly before turning mild and sunny.

* In the sixth race, Maxine's Hymn kicked open her starting gate a split-second before the rest of the field broke, but even after a stewards' inquiry, there were no wagering refunds on her. Maxine's Hymn, the 7-2 third choice, trailed through the early going before finishing fifth.

"She hit her door open, but got neither an advantage nor disadvantage by doing so," said chief steward John Veitch.