06/04/2010 11:00PM

Graham guides Hot Cha Cha to victory

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hot Cha Cha got a terrific trip under Jimmy Graham Saturday in winning the 34th running of the at Churchill Downs, giving the filly her fourth graded stakes win.

Owned and bred by Nelson McMakin, Hot Cha Cha paid $5.20 as second choice in a field of six filly-mare turf runners.

Always saving ground while reserved a few lengths off the pace in the 1 1/16-mile race, Hot Cha Cha surged to command nearing the sixteenth pole, taking over for Keertana, the 7-5 favorite, before edging away to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Acoma, the 122-pound highweight, rallied belatedly to take second by a head from Keertana.

Graham "kept her close and relaxed, and that helped us out," said winning trainer Phil Sims. "We beat some nice fillies in Acoma and Keertana, so we are very proud of her race today."

Hot Cha Cha became a Grade 1 winner last fall when she took the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, her home track. She had raced twice since that benchmark triumph, performing creditably when third in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley and second in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile this spring. The 4-year-old Cactus Ridge filly earned $68,009, lifting her bankroll to $726,017 from 15 career starts.

Hot Cha Cha finished the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.27 over a firm surface. Prior to the QEII, the filly also won the Grade 3 Bourbonette and Grade 3 Pucker Up last year.

Sims said the Grade 1 Beverly D. on Aug. 21 at Arlington Park is the next main goal for Hot Cha Cha.

Acoma, the defending Mint Julep champion and 7-2 third choice, had never lost in five prior tries at Churchill, including three races on turf. Unraced in more than six months, the 5-year-old mare lagged behind the leading group much of the way before closing steadily in a solid comeback effort.

Hooh Why, Grande Annee, and Danzon were early scratches.