04/07/2012 5:40PM

Keeneland: Karlovy Vary outruns her odds to take Ashland

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Karlovy Vary wins the Ashland under jockey James Graham. Her next start will likely come in the Kentucky Oaks.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Trainer Rusty Arnold said before the Ashland Stakes was run for the 75th time Saturday at Keeneland that he believed Karlovy Vary was a better filly than It’s Tea Time, who barely missed winning the Grade 1 race two years ago. Such pronouncements often go awry, but this one sure didn’t, as Karlovy Vary led all the way under Jimmy Graham to win the Ashland by three-quarters of a length as a 15-1 length overlay.

“This was good,” said Arnold. “This one will work.”

Karlovy Vary is by Dynaformer, just like It’s Tea Time, and was bred and is owned by Alex Campbell Jr., just like her still-active 5-year-old stablemate. In a field of seven 3-year-old fillies, and coming off a victory in a first-level turf allowance at Gulfstream Park, she was a 5-1 co-third choice on the morning line for the $500,000 Ashland but somehow wound up paying $32.80 to win after finishing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.82 over Polytrack.

Hard Not to Like finished second after making a sustained but failed run at the winner in the upper stretch, while Stephanie’s Kitten, the 11-10 favorite, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Both of those fillies last raced in early November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, with Stephanie’s Kitten winning and Hard Not to Like finishing fifth.

Before a sun-splashed crowd of 24,890, Karlovy Vary broke sharpest to make the lead with Lotta Lovin positioned just to her outside. “If nobody else wanted it, we were going to go,” said Graham. “She broke in stride, and I let her do her thing. She ran a great race.”

Leaving the far turn, after edging away from Lotta Lovin, Hard Not to Like moved closest, while Stephanie’s Kitten, always in a good outside spot under Julien Leparoux, could not make similar headway. When Graham began to ride his filly hard, she maintained her advantage for her third victory in six lifetime starts. She earned $300,000.

For Graham, who primarily rides a Chicago-New Orleans circuit, the victory was his second in a Grade 1 event. The other also came at Keeneland, in the 2009 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. “I like this place,” he said.

Arnold said the May 4 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs most likely is next for Karlovy Vary.

“We’d been thinking about this spot for her since January,” said the 57-year-old Lexington native. “We came up here a little early from Florida with this in mind, and she really had trained fabulous. It’s one of those few plans that worked.”

Stephanie’s Kitten, meanwhile, is being pointed to the Royal Ascot meet in England in late June.

After the top three, the order was Heart of Destiny, Dixie Strike, Goldrush Girl, and Lotta Lovin.

Hard Not to Like, a 10-1 shot, helped with the exotic payoffs, which were $268.20 for a $2 exacta and $428.80 for a $1 trifecta.

* Earlier Saturday, Al Khali went from last to first in the final quarter-mile to capture a $67,000 turf allowance in his first start since running in six straight Grade 1 races. Alan Garcia was up for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.