Updated on 09/17/2011 10:54AM

Pair of firsts for McKee

Four Footed Fotos
Tap the Admiral is victorious in the Firecracker Handicap on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Exactly one month since he lost his apprentice allowance, jockey John McKee notched his first stakes victory as a journeyman, and his first in a graded stakes, when he gave Tap the Admiral a flawless ride in winning Saturday's $288,500 at Churchill Downs.

McKee enticed Tap the Admiral to sit several lengths off an early pace set by Pass Rush in the Grade 2 Firecracker, a one-mile turf race contested before an ontrack crowd of 10,415. Turning for home, Tap the Admiral swung out to the middle of the course and proved clearly best, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of a late run by Freefourinternet.

Tap the Admiral, a 5-year-old horse by Pleasant Tap, is owned by Stanley Ettinger and trained by Del Carroll II. Tap the Admiral, one of just two shippers in the field of nine older horses, returned $16.40 after finishing in 1:35.48 over a firm course.

Package Store, the 2-1 favorite, finished another half-length back in third after taking over for Pass Rush turning for home. Classic Par was fourth, followed by Pass Rush, Cat Tracker, Rock Slide, Al's Dearly Bred, and Entitlement.

Tap the Admiral now has won 6 of 27 starts and has earned slightly more than $445,000, with the Firecracker being his first stakes victory. Before Saturday, the most high-profile race that involved Tap the Admiral was the John Henry Handicap on the day before the Breeders' Cup last year at Arlington Park. He finished first but was disqualified in a highly controversial decision that Ettinger appealed to the Illinois Racing Board. The IRB eventually rejected the challenge.

For McKee, 21, the Firecracker was easily his richest career win. McKee won 274 races before his apprenticeship expired June 5.

"Mr. Carroll said to take him back, cover him up, and make one run. That's what I did," said McKee, who rode with some success in New York last winter and now has settled into a year-round circuit in Kentucky. "I had a lot of horse left at the end."

Freefourinternet, a 7-1 shot, completed a $2 exacta worth $141.80. The $2 trifecta paid $441.40.