11/21/2015 8:00PM

Button Down scores first graded stakes in Cardinal Handicap

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In seven starts in Europe prior to coming to North America, Button Down was a maiden and not a very good one at that. But on this continent, she has developed into a higher class of filly – a fact on display Saturday when she took the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs to score her first graded stakes victory.

Relishing a rain-dampened Churchill course contested on yielding ground – similar conditions to what she faced when she ran second in the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine in September – she stalked the leaders as they set a legitimate pace in the Cardinal over the tiring grass and blew past in early stretch to score a comfortable 1 1/2-length victory over the longshot Lady Fog Horn.

The 2-1 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Cardinal, Button Down was well positioned by jockey Paco Lopez, settling in midpack behind early fractions of 24.02 seconds and 48.85, set by Invading Humor. Then as the pace slowed to 1:14.94 on the second turn, she advanced into third, and after asserting command in early stretch, she maintained a clear advantage over Lady Fog Horn, who chased her in vain after being in traffic early.

“I had a little trouble in the first turn, bumped a little bit,” said Lopez.”Then the second quarter, I had better position.”

With success now comes reward. Winning trainer Josie Carroll said Button Down, a 4-year-old British-bred daughter of Oasis Dream, now has earned herself a five- to six-week winter vacation before she embarks on a 5-year-old campaign in 2016.

Owned by Greenwood Lodge Farm, she raced 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:56.19, a slow clocking reflecting the tiring conditions of the course.

It was the only turf race contested Saturday at Churchill Downs after a prior turf race was moved to dirt due to inclement weather.

Longshots followed Button Down across the wire, with runner-up Lady Fog Horn going off at 20-1, followed by the third-place Lacy at 23-1 and the fourth-place Street of Gold at 36-1.

Carroll, reached by telephone at Woodbine, where she also won the Glorious Song with Ami’s Mesa on Saturday, said that when she came to her last winter, “I was surprised she was a maiden.”

She said she couldn’t pinpoint why Button Down had improved so much, other than the obvious.

“I know she likes our racing,” she said.

Bagg O’Day goes last to first in Bet on Sunshine

A race earlier, Bagg O’Day rallied from last to first behind a hot pace to take the $82,700 Bet on Sunshine Stakes under Joe Rocco Jr.

Wisely allowed to fall farther off the pace than usual as longshot and eventual last-place finisher Brewing set a furious opening quarter in 20.74 seconds, Bagg O’Day swooped into contention on the turn, and  from there, he proved the strongest finisher, outrunning W.B. Smudge by three-quarters of a length, with Alsvid another half-length back in third.

The winner, a 4-year-old gelded son of Four Star Day, raced six furlongs on a fast Churchill track that had been dampened by light rain in 1:09.91.