10/12/2011 4:25PM

Keeneland: Suzzona faces salty group of turf sprinters in Franklin County Stakes

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Suzzona has won the last five times Julian Pimentel has ridden her, including the $200,000 Turf Amazon (above) in her last start.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Suzzona has come a long way since her days as a $10,000 claimer. Now 7, with 21 wins from 44 career starts, the Maryland-based mare will try to continue a hot recent streak for jockey Julian Pimentel as one of the top contenders in a rugged field of filly-mare turf sprinters Friday in the $100,000 Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland.

Pimentel, 30, not only rode a career-high five winners Tuesday at Laurel Park but has been instrumental in Suzzona becoming one of the hottest horses in her division, guiding her to back-to-back stakes wins coming into the 5 1/2-furlong Franklin County, most notably a dazzling score in the $200,000 Turf Amazon at Parx Racing last month. In fact, Pimentel has won the last five times he has ridden Suzzona, dating to July 2010.

“We’d been putting her on the lead and she kept quitting, so Julian said we should start taking her back,” said trainer Ben Feliciano Jr., who claimed Suzzona on behalf of Sandy Valley Farms for a mere $10,000 in April 2009. “She’d always been a good claim for us, but ever since then, she’s really been great.”

Suzzona, an earner of more than $600,000, will break from post 6 in trying to give Feliciano, 45, his first Keeneland victory. “I’ve been to Keeneland maybe a half-dozen times and had three seconds – two in allowances and one in a stakes,” said Feliciano, a perennial high-percentage conditioner in Maryland.

In all, 17 horses were entered in the Franklin County, although just 14 are on the program and only 12 can start. Five Star Fun and Minute Limit are the also-eligibles.

As good as the Turf Amazon came up in Philadelphia, the Franklin County might be just as deep. Among the challengers are Supreme (post 2, Luis Garcia), whose fifth-place finish at Parx was her first race in which she wasn’t first or second; Bounding Bi (post 7, Jose Ferrer), the Turf Amazon runner-up at 19-1; Rose Catherine (post 8, Javier Castellano), the Todd Pletcher-trained filly who was a disappointing 11th as the 6-5 favorite at Parx; Salty Strike (post 11, Manny Cruz), winner of the Grade 3 Dogwood at Churchill Downs in the spring; and Quedabra Shiner (post 12, Julien Leparoux), an Argentine-bred, New York-based mare with 4 wins from 9 starts since Bobby Barbara assumed her training.

Leparoux, the leading rider thus far at this 17-day fall meet, took off all mounts Wednesday after being in a spill here Sunday but was expected back in action Thursday, according to his agent, Steve Bass. Leparoux was still experiencing pain in his right hand and wrist from the spill but otherwise incurred no long-lasting damage. Leparoux won the 2010 Franklin County aboard Mimi’s Bling, a 33-1 shot trained by Eddie Kenneally.

The Franklin County, sponsored by the Buffalo Trace distillery, goes as the ninth of 10 races on a Friday card that also includes two allowances (races 7 and 8). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, with the feature going at 5:23.