06/10/2017 6:25PM

Dona Bruja makes Mint Julep her first North American victory

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Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Dona Bruja will now be pointed to the Beverly D. on Aug. 12 at Arlington Park.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Dona Bruja was victorious Saturday in her North American debut when overtaking heavily favored Believe in Bertie in the final furlong of the Grade 3, $100,000 Mint Julep Handicap on the Churchill Downs turf.

Trainer Ignacio Correas was elated after the 1 1/2-length triumph and said he intends to point Dona Bruja, an Argentine champion, to the Grade 1 Beverly D. on Aug. 12 at Arlington Park.

“She’s a freak,” Correas said. “We’ll stick around here this summer, I think. I am so happy about how she ran today.”

Dona Bruja, a 5-year-old mare by Storm Embrujado, returned $13.40 after finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.46 over firm turf.

A winner in 8 of 10 prior starts for Ivan Gasparotto, a Brazilian businessman who races under the stable name of Don Felipe LLC, Dona Bruja came to Correas over the winter at Tampa Bay Downs after winning the Group 1 Copa de Plata Mansilla International in December in her final start of 2016. Correas was immediately impressed.

“She has done nothing wrong,” said Correas, who made a name for himself as the private trainer for Sagamore Farm in Maryland before rebuilding his stable when migrating to Kentucky in 2014.

On a beautiful late-spring afternoon, Dona Bruja and jockey Declan Cannon broke alertly in the 41st Mint Julep and assumed a comfortable stalking position behind Believe in Bertie, the 7-10 favorite in a field of six fillies and mares. Once the field turned for home, it appeared Believe in Bertie and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan were in position to keep on cruising on the lead, but Dona Bruja angled off the rail and quickly proved best.

Through the years, Argentina has been fertile ground for world-class Thoroughbreds, having produced such notable Eclipse champions as Paseana and Bayokoa.

“We had to run into Bayakoa today, huh?” said Richard Klein, owner-breeder of Believe in Bertie. “The horse that beat us was awfully good today.”

Sky My Sky finished third, another 5 1/4 lengths behind Believe in Bertie, and was followed by Linda, Lots o’ Lex, and Dynazar. Majestic Angel was an early scratch.

The win was the first in a graded race for Cannon, a native of Ireland who began riding on the Kentucky circuit last year.

The $2 exacta (4-1) paid $33.40, the $1 trifecta (4-1-3) returned $67.90, and the 10-cent superfecta (4-1-3-7) was worth $8.54.