10/13/2008 12:00AM

Velazquez returns in top form

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Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Jockey John Velazquez guides Alwajeeha to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Eight days after lying prone for several minutes following a frightening spill on the Keeneland Polytrack, jockey John Velazquez made a triumphant return from New York when giving Alwajeeha a flawless ride Saturday in winning the final Grade 1 race of the Keeneland fall meet, the 25th running of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.

Alwajeeha, always close, took over for Storm Mesa after turning for home, then drew clear to win the $500,000 QEII by 1 1/4 lengths over late-running Backseat Rhythm in a field of 11 3-year-old turf fillies. The winner returned $25.20.

Velazquez suffered a concussion in the spill on Oct. 3, opening day of the fall meet.

"I've got to say I'm very blessed that nothing serious happened to me," said Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award honoree. "The filly, she did it great today. We wanted to be close to the lead, we wanted her to be comfortable, and she was. After that, she just gave everything to me."

Alwajeeha, a Shadwell Stable homebred by Dixieland Band, was coming off a sixth-place effort in the Garden City Stakes, a Grade 1 race at Belmont won by Backseat Rhythm.

Kiaran McLaughlin is the trainer of Alwajeeha, who had won the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes over the Keeneland turf in April in a three-horse photo.

"She had things her way today," said Neal McLaughlin, Kiaran's brother and assistant. "We really took a close look at the pace scenario and it didn't look like there was a lot of speed. Johnny rode a great race."

On a sweltering afternoon, and before an ontrack crowd of 20,120, Storm Mesa set fractions of 23.38 seconds, 47.17, and 1:11.61 before Alwajeeha swept past. Velazquez put his mount to a drive, effectively putting the issue to rest, while Backseat Rhythm made a belated charge to nail My Princess Jess by a neck for second. Closeout was another two lengths back in fourth, followed by Ariege, the 5-2 favorite. Then came Magical Fantasy, Sefroua, Rosa Grace, Storm Mesa, Lickety Lemon, and My Baby Baby.

Alwajeeha, now a winner in 3 of 9 overall starts, finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.09 over a firm turf.

Perryville: Hatta Fort gets graded win

In six prior races since coming to the United States over the winter, Hatta Fort had run perhaps his best race over the Keeneland Polytrack and perhaps his worst over the Turfway Polytrack.

Two weeks after his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway, Hatta Fort notched his first graded victory in this country when rallying up the rail under Julien Leparoux to post a neck victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Perryville Stakes over the Polytrack. Amazing Results was a game second, while I'm So Lucky, the 13-10 favorite, was another three-quarters of a length back in third.

Hatta Fort, owned by the Godolphin powerhouse and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, returned $9.60 as second choice in a field of 10 3-year-olds. His first U.S. start resulted in a nose defeat in the Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland in April.

"His best race was the first race in this country in the spring," Godolphin assistant Rick Mettee said.

Hatta Fort, by the Irish sire Cape Cross, completed the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet in 1:25.97.