Updated on 05/04/2012 5:14PM

Churchill Downs: Juanita upsets in La Troienne

Barbara D. Livingston
Juanita, with Ramon Dominguez riding, passes Plum Pretty en route to victory in the La Troienne.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Juanita upset the Grade 2, $327,000 La Troienne Stakes, leaving behind heavily favored Plum Pretty at the top of the Churchill Downs homestretch and going on to a two-length victory over late-running St. John’s River.

Plum Pretty, the 2-5 favorite and winner of the 2011 Kentucky Oaks, turned in a flat performance three weeks after what looked like an easy win in the April 13 Apple Blossom Handicap, her first start since last fall. Making a comfortable lead under Rafael Bejarano, she set slow fractions of 24.39 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.36 for the first half, but when pace-pressing Juanita came up to challenge before the far turn, Plum Pretty could not shake her. The pair raced on even terms for about a quarter-mile, but it was Juanita who went on after turning for home, opening a clear lead and holding clear a late run from St. John’s River, who passed Plum Pretty in the final sixteenth to nab second.

“I made the lead easy and was comfortable in front,” said Plum Pretty’s jockey, Rafael Bejarano. “The pace was so slow I thought I was going to gallop.”

Juanita, a 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft owned by William and Graydon Patterson and trained by Mike Maker, was claimed for $25,000 at Gulfstream Park about 14 months ago, and has proven an excellent find. Last fall she won the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park, and after chasing home Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies on March 17, she broke through with what appeared to be a career-best effort here Friday. Juanita paid $35.40 to win and was timed in 1:42.82 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.

“She’s a pretty easy horse to maintain, and she runs well at Churchill,” said Maker.

St. John’s River, making her first start since last August and first since undergoing throat surgery this past winter to correct a breathing problem, rallied well considering the slow pace and finished one length in front of Plum Pretty.

“I thought it was a really race for her first start back,” said jockey Rosie Napravnik, who rode St. John’s River to a close second-place finish in the Oaks last year.