08/11/2012 5:07PM

Ellis Park: Salty Strike turns back Joyful Victory in Gardenia


HENDERSON, Ky. - Salty Strike shook off a sustained bid from Joyful Victory before edging away for a 1 1/4-length triumph Saturday in the 31st running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia Stakes, the only graded race of the year at Ellis Park.

With Victor Lebron riding for trainer Ken McPeek, Salty Strike led throughout the one-mile race, returning $8.60 to win as co-second choice after finishing in 1:36.81 over a fast main track. Joyful Victory, the 7-5 favorite, had every opportunity but just couldn’t get past, settling for second, another five lengths before 21-1 shot Ridgester in a field of nine fillies and mares. Holiday Soiree was fourth, while Sassy Image, the co-second choice at 3-1, was never close when finishing sixth after a stumbling start.

Salty Strike “broke really good,” said Lebron. “After I shook her up a little at the quarter pole, I reached up and grabbed her and I said, ‘Let’s wait ‘til I need you a little more.’ At the eighth pole, I shook her up again, and I knew we were home free.”

Salty Strike is a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly bred and owned by Craig Singer. Based at Churchill Downs, she now has won 7 of 16 starts, with the Gardenia marking her second graded win, following the Grade 3 Dogwood at her home base at 3. She earned $60,000 to bring her total to $367,060.

Gabriel Saez, aboard Joyful Victory, seemed angry after the defeat. “Bad trip, just blame it on me,” said Saez with obvious sarcasm.

On a picturesque sunny afternoon, Salty Strike broke swiftest from her inside post while Absinthe Minded was away awkwardly. After straightening down the backstretch, the battle lines already were being drawn, with Salty Strike clinging to the rail and Joyful Victory poised just to her outside. Those two drew off in the final turn to make it a two-horse race.

The victory was the second in the Ellis showcase for McPeek, who won in 2002 with Minister’s Baby.

Juanita and Toxis were early scratches.

The Ellis meet runs through Sept. 3.