By Paul Rolfes, for Kentucky Downs
FRANKLIN, Ky., (Saturday, Sept. 11) – Even-money favorite Princess Grace gave her backers in The Calumet Bourbon Ladies Turf a small shock when she broke dead last in the field of nine fillies and mares in the $750,000 Grade 3 race at Kentucky Downs.
Asked if he was concerned, jockey Florent Geroux said, flat out, “No.”
Geroux’s patience paid off. After making up as much as eight lengths, Princess Grace saved ground down the stretch, came through an opening and rallied to finish a half-length ahead of Dalika. The homebred racing in the colors of John and Susan Moore was clocked at 1:34.25 for the mile on a firm turf course. Cutting most of the early fractions of :23.02, :46.66, 1:10.79 and 1:22.23 was longshot Sara Sea, who faded to eighth.
“That always gives you big concern,” trainer Michael Stidham said of Princess Grace breaking at the back. “But she’s so versatile, that she can lay right off of it if they’re going slow. She can sit back if they’re going quick like they were at Del Mar the other day. With the kind of horse she is, you worry but you’re not as worried.”
It was a tight finish, as German-bred Dalika, with the meet’s leading rider, Joel Rosario, came wide down the lane and edged out Abscond and Flavien Prat, by a nose.
“She ran very well,” Rosario said of Dalika, who overcame an outside post. “The horse got through on the inside, but I was happy with her race.”
Dalika’s trainer, Al Stall Jr., said Princess Grace saving ground was the difference.
“We didn’t quite get over,” he said. “We knew the rail is a little better place to be. But outside draw, there was always a horse on our left. But she ran as hard as she could for as long as she could. Just couldn’t get there. The inside split for the winner; that’s the difference.”
Princess Grace paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20 as the only favorite of Saturday’s five grade stakes . Dalika returned $4.40 and $3, with Abscond paying $3.40 for show. Winning for the sixth time in seven career starts, Princess Grace took home $446,400, just about doubling her lifetime earnings to $886,860.
Putting Princess Grace in this race almost didn’t happen, but owner Susan Moore persuaded Stidham to take a second look at giving Kentucky Downs a try.
“The credit for this race goes to Susan Moore,” he said. “We weren’t really planning on entering. Entry morning she called and said, ‘You sure you don’t want to enter? Let’s just enter and take a look.’
“The plan was to wait and go in the First Lady (at Keeneland) and go for the Grade 1,” Stidham continued. “And she said, ‘Well let’s enter and take a look’. That’s where this race came from.
“For $750,000, we looked like on paper, and only on paper, like the fastest horse,” he added. “But that doesn’t always work when you get on the track. But when you’re the fastest horse for $750,000, and the horse is doing good, you take a shot.”
Dalika owner Paul Varga could celebrate the mare’s second-place finish, capping back-to-back successes, after In Good Spirits won The Calumet Bourbon Ladies Turf, a $750,000 Grade 3, one race earlier.
“It was a wonderful day,” he said. “We were on the outside and had to draw in (in the Ladies Sprint), so we got really lucky there. If we had an unlucky trip here, that’s just the way it is. But to come down here for these purses and get a 1-2 in stakes races, it’s great.”