Updated on 09/16/2011 9:00AM

Minister's Baby best in Gardenia

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HENDERSON, Ky. - Minister's Baby, with Craig Perret in from Saratoga to ride, pulled away turning for home en route to a 1 3/4-length victory Saturday in the $200,000 Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park.

Minister's Baby, owned by the Lucky Seven Stable, was not seriously threatened down the stretch by runner-up Lakenheath, whose entrymate, Softly, finished another 3 3/4 lengths back in third in a field of eight fillies and mares.

Minister's Baby, a winner in four of six starts this year, returned $7 as the slight favorite in the 21st running of the Grade 3 Gardenia, highlight of the 41-day summer meet at Ellis. A 4-year-old Deputy Minister trained by Ken McPeek, she finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.73 over a fast track.

Caressing, the 2-year-old filly champion of 2000, finished fourth in her final career start - while racing in foal to Fusaichi Pegasus - after tracking the early pace set by Red n'Gold. Then came Happily Unbridled, Red n'Gold, Gal on the Go, and Town Queen. Katy Kat and Countess Marq were early scratches.

Before an ontrack crowd estimated at 6,000, Red n'Gold led through fractions of 23.73, 48.02 and 1:11.63, with Minister's Baby pulling alongside her by the time the field rolled into the far turn. Afterward, Perret said he was impressed with the energy his mount showed in victory.

McPeek, whose stable is enjoying easily its best-ever year, watched the Gardenia simulcast from Saratoga. He said earlier in the week that he believed Minister's Baby was vastly improved and that he hoped she would continue to progress toward more important events this fall.

Indeed, the Gardenia was the third stakes win this year for Minister's Baby, and the first in a graded event. The $120,000 winner's share lifts her career bankroll to $374,370. Overall, the filly has won seven of 20 starts, but four of her last five.

Lucky Seven is the racing moniker for the Mackin family of Louisville. The late Leo Mackin originated the stable several years ago. The remaining six members of his family chose to continue operating the stable.

* Earlier Saturday, Interest Only ($9.80), making her stakes debut, led every step of the $129,700 Ellis Park Breeders' Cup Stakes, finishing 3 1/4 lengths ahead of late-running Hattiesburg.

Interest Only, a 4-year-old Crafty Prospector filly owned by Bert, Elaine and Richard Klein, finished six furlongs in 1:10.64. Although still eligible for a third-level allowance condition, trainer Steve Flint said the filly had been so impressive in recent starts that he believed she merited a chance at stakes company.

Hattiesburg fell far behind before finishing strongly to get second by a half-length over Juke, the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven fillies and mares.