02/19/2011 6:51PM

Kathmanblu makes case for division leadership with Rachel Alexandra win at Fair Grounds

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Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges Jr.
Kathmanblu wins the Rachel Alexandra under jockey Julien Leparoux.

NEW ORLEANS – Kathmanblu solidified her position near the top – if not atop – the 3-year-old filly division with a workmanlike 1 1/4-length win in the Grade 3, $147,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Racing fourth behind a slow pace, Kathmanblu made her bid under Julien Leparoux at the top of the stretch, collaring pacesetting Gran Lioness past the eighth pole and went on to a fairly comfortable victory over late-running Inglorious. Gran Lioness held a clear lead through mild fractions, setting splits of 24.83 seconds, 49.27, and 1:14.30. Around the far turn, Kathmanblu still was fourth, three lengths behind the leader, but Leparoux had no concerns.

“I thought I had everyone all the way around,” he said.

Leparoux was not the only one holding that perspective: Kathmanblu was 1-9 in the early betting and went off the 3-5 favorite, paying just $3.20 to win. She ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.13 (older horses went 1:43.45 a race later in the Mineshaft Handicap) while winning for the fifth time in eight races. Three of those wins – including her 3-year-old debut last month at Gulfstream – came on turf, and Kathmanblu now is 2 for 2 in two-turn dirt races.

“She’s just as good on either” surface, Leparoux said.

Kathmanblu’s success didn’t seem pre-ordained to trainer Ken McPeek. A Bluegrass Cat filly bred by Five-D Thoroughbreds, which co-owns her with Wind River Stables, Kathmanblu finished eighth at odds of 58-1 making her career debut in a short-sprint race last June at Churchill.

“She was small when she came to us,” McPeek said. “She hadn’t shown anything special. She never trained going into her first race to make you say wow.”

But Kathmanblu has come steadily forward since that first start. She’s smart, McPeek said, and has wrapped her mind around racing.

“She understands when to change gears, and she’s got gears to change,” said McPeek.

Kathmanblu will return to McPeek’s Florida base, and may not come back for the Fair Grounds Oaks. A start in the Gulfstream Park Oaks might be more likely, and, obviously, McPeek is pointing to the Kentucky Oaks, probably with just one more race leading into it.

Inglorious, making her first start of the year and first on dirt, finished well for second, three-quarters of a length in front of Gran Lioness.

“I’m thrilled to death with my filly,” trainer Josie Carroll said.

After Gran Lioness came Bouquet Booth, Chloe Kate, and Tapit Dancer. Lilacs and Lace was a late scratch.