04/24/2012 11:02AM

Keeneland: Upperline the one to catch in Bewitch Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Upperline is the horse to beat in Thursday's Grade 3, $150,000 Bewitch Stakes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Until finishing second in the Dowager Stakes on the Keeneland turf last fall, Upperline had never raced as far as 1 1/2 miles. But given that encouraging effort, along with her advancing age and pedigree, trainer Mike Stidham laid her up this winter with the thought of aiming for more turf marathons this year.

With one tightener under her belt, Upperline returns to Keeneland as the horse to catch and beat in the Thursday feature, the Grade 3, $150,000 Bewitch Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

“We’ve had this race in mind ever since she ran as well as she did last fall,” Stidham said. “She’s bred to go this far, and we’ve been thinking it may be time for her to do this more.”

[BEWITCH STAKES: Get PPs, watch full card live, wager with DRF Bets]

Upperline, with Jimmy Graham to ride, will break from post 5 in a field of eight fillies and mares in the Bewitch, which is run around three turns. She will be meeting up again with Senada, her conqueror here last fall, but Senada (post 3, Javier Castellano) has gone winless in her three starts since upsetting the Dowager at 16-1.

“Maybe she’s tailed off a bit,” Stidham said, referring to Senada, “and it looks like we could be peaking at the right time with our second race off a layup, so maybe things will swing in our favor this time.”

Upperline, a 5-year-old mare by Maria’s Mon, was second as an odds-on favorite in the March 31 Bayou Handicap at Fair Grounds in her return from a five-month layoff.

Stidham is among a handful of trainers who soon will break camp at Keeneland to race this summer at Arlington Park. For the first time, Stidham also will have a string at Belmont Park, where he has been allotted 15 stalls.

Besides Upperline and Senada, others with a fighting chance in this 51st running of the Bewitch include Here to Win (post 1, Joe Bravo), an 11-1 winner of the Grade 3 The Very One over the Gulfstream Park turf last out for Kiaran McLaughlin; Shimmering Moment (post 2, Robby Albarado), a mare accustomed to these longer races; Woodford Belle (post 4, Julien Leparoux), a Catesby Clay homebred with a decent late kick; and Thislilsoulofmine (post 8, Garrett Gomez), being sent out by Roger Attfield, who this week was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame.

Rounding out the cast are longshots Distorted Alice (post 6, Victor Lebron) and Hemera (post 7, Marcellino Pedroza).

The Thursday card is scheduled to mark the first appearance in Kentucky this year by jockey Rosie Napravnik, who has been riding primarily in New York since winning the Fair Grounds riding title for the second straight year. Napravnik was named by Attfield to ride horses in races 4 and 6.

The first of nine races on this 14th of 15 spring programs gets under way at the usual 1:05 p.m. Eastern. The Bewitch (race 8) goes at 4:42.