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Mona de Momma rallies outside in Humana
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer John Sadler's instructions to jockey Joel Rosario before the ? Go wide, young man.
Mona de Momma broke from the outside gate in a nine-horse field Saturday - and Rosario made the most of it. The sloppy Churchill Downs racetrack killed inside speed on most of Saturday's card, playing to outside closers like Mona de Momma. The Southern California shipper, making her first dirt start, rallied wide and edged another outside closer, Pretty Prolific, to win the second stakes of her career and her first Grade 1 race.
Champion Informed Decision won the Humana Distaff over a wet track in 2009, but her late rally fell short this time. Informed Decision does not favor mud, but despite appearing to struggle with the going, she rallied in the final furlong and finished fastest for third.
"It was a lot like last year, but she just ran out of ground," trainer Jonathan Sheppard said.
"I thought she was game. She just didn't look all that comfortable."
A week ago Friday, Mona de Momma worked a bullet six furlongs in company with Kentucky Oaks runner Crisp and breezed well enough over the mud that Sadler approached Saturday's slop fest with some degree of confidence. Sadler also noticed the apparently outside-favoring nature of the track surface and told Rosario "to stay wide."
"This race was tailor-made for Joel," Sadler said. "He likes sit back, he rides off the pace, and he likes to go around. I told him to just sit back and come around on the outside."
Warbling set a fast inside pace (opening quarter-mile in 22.09 seconds, half in 44.38) in the $336,900 Humana, pressed by Dubai Majesty and Cassidy's Pride, but the pacesetters dropped away tamely. The winner was timed in 1:22.73 for seven furlongs.
Mona de Momma, a 4-year-old Speightstown filly owned by Michael Talla, hadn't even tried a graded stakes until April 4, when she won the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap by a head. But Sadler's Southern California synthetic contingent has gone great guns so far at Churchill: Sadler has won with three of six starters at this early point in the meet, capturing two graded stakes.
Churchill Downs: Atta Boy Roy wire
Valorie Lund has been training horses for 27 years. During that time, she'd never won a graded race. In fact, she'd never even been to Kentucky before brining Atta Boy Roy to Churchill Downs for Saturday's
But the Arizona-based Lund not only took on but defeated some of the nation's top trainers and best sprinters when sending Atta Boy Roy out to an unlikely half-length victory over Grade 1 winner Warrior's Reward in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs.
With jockey Calvin Borel aboard, Atta Boy Roy sprinted right to the lead and controlled the Grade 2 Churchill Downs from start to finish. Atta Boy Roy, whose most notable victories prior to Saturday were a pair of minor stakes wins at Emerald Downs, set fractions of 22.23 seconds and 44.73 over a sloppy track while tracked first by Wall Street Wonder and then Accredit. Atta Boy Roy shook off both those challenges and then had plenty left in reserve to withstand a final surge by Warrior's Reward.
Musket Man, the 5-2 favorite coming off his heartbreaking setback at the hands of Warrior's Reward in the Grade 1 Carter, finished another 2 3/4 lengths further back in third.
Atta Boy Roy, a 5-year-old son of Tribunal owned by REV Racing, paid $22.20 after covering the distance in 1:22.54.
"This result might have been a surprise to most people, beating three of the top sprinters in the U.S., but not for me," a delighted Lund said. "I have a lot of confidence in my horse, and he's definitely gotten better as a 5-year-old than at 4. He was fighting quarter cracks the only previous time I ran him in the slop, but he worked fast over a bad track here last week. And he loves Calvin."
Lund said her only concern was what appeared to be a track bias against speed during the earlier races Saturday.
"Speed wasn't holding all day, closers were winning every race," Lund said.
Atta Boy Roy is likely to remain in Kentucky and will point to the Grade 3 Aristides on May 29, according to Lund.
Trainer Ian Wilkes said he was pleased with Warrior's Reward's performance, even in defeat.
- Mike Welsch
Distaff Turf Mile: Phola kicks clear
Phola's ascension into a top-flight turf filly continued Saturday at Churchill Downs as the daughter of Johannesburg unleashed a powerful kick down the stretch to sweep past the field and win the by 1 1/4 lengths.
Hot Cha Cha, who made the lead in upper stretch, finished second by 1 1/4 lengths over Miss Keller. They were followed in the order of finish by Fantasia, 2-1 favorite Tizaqueena, Cure for Sale, and Diamondrella.
It was the third victory in as many starts this year for Phola, who won a second-level allowance at Gulfstream in February and the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs in March. The same late-running tactics that proved successful in those two races were employed again by jockey Ramon Dominguez on Saturday.
Despite racing last behind modest fractions of 24.93 seconds, 49.67, and 1:14.28 set by longshot Cure for Sale, Dominguez allowed Phola to linger in the back of the pack through the early stages. Dominguez moved Phola four wide into contention around the turn, came out another path or two in the stretch, and then stormed past Hot Cha Cha in the final sixteenth.
Phola, owned by a group that includes Jake Pletcher, George Saufley, and William and Graydon Patterson and trained by Todd Pletcher, covered the mile in 1:38.35 over the yielding ground. She returned $15.40 to win.
"They asked me to ride her basically the same as the last time, and she's so easy on herself," Dominguez said. "The going is so soft as well that you don't really know what you have until it's time to go. When you ask her to go, she's got a good three-sixteenths or a quarter-mile kick. It's so helpful when they're so light on their feet as she is."
Pletcher said that Phola "has really found herself this year."
Pletcher added that Phola could make her next start in the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5.
- David Grening
Eight Belles: Buckleupbuttercup upsets
Last year, at age 2, Hot Dixie Chick won the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. Buckleupbuttercup? She won a $30,000 maiden-claimer. Yet the Eight Belles, the first stakes of Kentucky Derby Day, was no contest - advantage 'Buttercup.'
Skipping over a sloppy Churchill Downs racing surface, Buckleupbuttercup blew past tri-leaders before the eighth pole, and went on to a 6 1/4- length victory in the . Left in her wake, finishing third behind Visavis, was Hot Dixie Chick, who disputed the early pace, but had little left for a final push.
Trained for owner-breeder Avalon Farms by Eddie Kenneally, Buckleupbuttercup won her career debut last November at Churchill while eligible to be claimed for $30,000.
"That's where she looked like she belonged at the time," Kenneally said. "She's really, really improved."
Buckleupbuttercup ($17.80) won twice more earlier this year, both starter-allowance races at Gulfstream Park, and with her victory Saturday, she is undefeated in four dirt starts. Breaking from post 1 under Julien Leparoux, Buckleupbuttercup raced near the inside down the backstretch and into the turn, with Leparoux angling out just past the three-eighths pole. He and Buckleupbuttercup came into the stretch going best of all, and they swooped past Hot Dixie Chick and Visavis without meeting strong resistance. The winner was timed in 1:29.49 for 7 1/2 furlongs.
Decelerator made the early lead, with Robby Albarado switching Hot Dixie Chick out to come between Decelerator and Visavis in the first quarter-mile. With the Decelerator and Hot Dixie Chick dueling, the first quarter-mile was a moderate 23 seconds, the half a snappier 45.37. Hot Dixie Chick, running the longest distance of her career in her second start this year, did not stay on well. Albarado said his mount "did give some response when I called on her," but Hot Dixie Chick, the 3-5 favorite, came nowhere near matching strides with the winner, and was beaten 1 1/2 lengths for second.
- Marcus Hersh