05/30/2016 8:36PM

Illuminant holds off Wekeela in Gamely Stakes

Benoit & Associates
Illuminant, ridden by Flavien Prat, wins the Gamely Stakes by one length Monday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Illuminant led the field in Monday’s $301,035 Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita by a half-length with a furlong to go, a point in the race at which her trainer, Michael McCarthy, was trying to watch his filly and the chasing pack.

McCarthy was concerned that the heavily favorite Wekeela, ridden by Javier Castellano, would launch a rally and catch Illuminant late in the Grade 1 race at 1 1/8 miles on turf for fillies and mares.

“I kept looking for Javier,” McCarthy said. “I kept looking at my filly, and she was inching away.”

Illuminant had the advantage and the momentum in the final sixteenth, maintaining her lead for her first stakes win. Illuminant ($12.40) was timed in 1:48.34 and gave jockey Flavien Prat his 12th win in 37 mounts on turf at the current spring-summer meeting. The meeting began May 5.

Prat kept Illuminant near the lead throughout, a factor he credited for the win. Fanticola, a 7-1 shot, led for the first six furlongs, with Illuminant racing in second, within 1 1/2 lengths of the front.

“Fanticola and I were the only speed,” Prat said. “I had a good trip. I was able to cover her, and she took a breather. After that, she did the rest.”

Illuminant finished a length in front of Wekeela, a group stakes winner in France in 2015 who was the 4-5 favorite. Wekeela and Illuminant were second and third behind Tepin, the champion turf female of 2015, in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on April 16.

Wekeela was sixth of eight early in the Gamely Stakes and progressed well to reach contention in early stretch. She failed to quicken and could not catch Illuminant. The loss left Castellano surprised.

“I thought I was a cinch,” Castellano said. “I thought I’d go by. She traveled so good.”

Elektrum, the winner of the Grade 2 John Mabee Stakes at Del Mar last August, finished third, followed by Keri Belle, Fanticola, Nancy From Nairobi, Dressed to a T, and Nashoba’s Gold.

The turf course at Santa Anita was firm on Monday, but Prat said the course was softer than the firm course at Keeneland. He said the condition of the course helped Illuminant, who races for the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners syndicate.

“I think she improved, and the turf was a little softer here, and it was a mile and an eighth,” he said. “At Santa Anita, it’s better when you’re close to the pace.”

Illuminant gave McCarthy his first Grade 1 win since he opened his own stable in Southern California in the winter of 2013-14. McCarthy was the trainer of record when Rags to Riches won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes here in February 2007, a time when McCarthy was an assistant to Todd Pletcher. Pletcher was serving a suspension for a medication violation at the time.

Illuminant, by Quality Road, was purchased for $180,000 as the Ocala Breeders’ Sale Co. auction of 2-year-olds in training in March 2014. She has won 4 of 11 starts and earned $367,650.