03/07/2015 7:08PM

Stephanie's Kitten scores as favorite in Hillsborough

Stephanie Van Minos/SV Photography
John Velazquez guides Stephanie's Kitten to a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Hillsborough.

OLDSMAR, Fla. –  Stephanie’s Kitten, swinging to the rail in upper stretch under John Velazquez, showed she was far from ready for retirement as she burst past the leaders in deep stretch to post a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3,$150,000 Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

The 6-year-old Stephanie’s Kitten was on the auction block last fall at the Fasig-Tipton mixed sale but failed to meet the $4 million reserve Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey placed on her so she was returned to the Chad Brown barn, where she has been preparing at Palm Bay Meadows for her 2015 debut.

Stephanie’s Kitten raced well-placed just off the moderate pace  of 48.57  seconds and 1:12.90 set by St. Borealis with Speed Seeker prompting that leader and Ball Dancing also forwardly placed. Turning for home, Speed Seeker and Ball Dancing both challenged for the lead in the middle of the course while Velazquez, who had steered the favored Stephanie’s Kitten through traffic, swung to the inside for racing room. Once clear, Stephanie’s Kitten turned on the jets and rolled past the leaders. Her stablemate, Ball Dancing, finished second,  with 60-1 shot Speed Seeker holding on well for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back.

Final time for the nine furlongs over a “firm” course was 1:49.05.

Stephanie’s Kitten returned $4.80 while earning the $90,000 winner’s share of the Hillsborough and notched her ninth career wins from 20 starts. Her career earnings now total $2,724,104.

General a Rod scores in Challenger

General a Rod made his first start for the Todd Pletcher barn a winning one as he rallied three wide out of the final turn and then drew off with a flourish to a post an authoritative 6 1/4-length victory in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes.

Under a confident ride by Velazquez., General a Rod was content to prompt the moderate pace of 48.19 and 1:12.33 set by Decisive Moment and then went up three wide to challenge for the lead along with Good Lord into the stretch. When asked by Velazquez, General a Rod, who finished fourth in last year’s Preakness Stakes, kicked into high gear and motored away from the field through the final furlong.

Old Time Hockey, who finally found some room along the rail under Joel Rosario, outfinished Neck n’ Neck by a neck for second.

General a Rod returned $5.60 and covered 1 1/16  miles in 1:42.89.