Juddmonte Farms’ Aviate, with just one United States race under her belt, rallied strongly in the stretch and pulled away for victory in the $227,800 Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) for fillies and mares May 7.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux for trainer Bill Mott, Aviate, a Great Britain homebred by Dansili out of the Irish River mare Emplane, raced toward the back of the pack in the one-mile event but circled wide at the top of the lane and collared Aruna and Ramon Dominguez late to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The second-place finisher rallied from fourth and appeared a winner until Aviate appeared on the scene. Fantasia also closed from well back to finish third with Joel Rosario aboard, a neck behind Aruna.
"She had a clean trip," Desormeaux said of the winner. "She was always on the bridle--very agressive in fact. I think her frame helped her tremendously with winning the race. She has a light frame so she was able to skip over the top, whereas the bigger, heavier horses had to sink a lot deeper. It is still soft (from earlier rain), so she enjoyed the soft going."
Time for the one mile over turf officially rated firm was 1:36.67 after fractions of :23.75 for the opening quarter-mile, :47.81 for a half-mile, and 1:12.11 for six furlongs. Early leader Kiss Mine and pace trackers Tapitsfly and Upperline faded heading into the stretch. Never Retreat, the 7-2 favorite in the field of nine older fillies and mares, finished sixth after a wide trip.
Aviate, a 4-year-old, made her U.S. debut March 5 at Gulfstream Park with an even third-place finish in the Honey Fox Handicap (gr. IIIT) with Desormeaux aboard. It also was her 2011 debut. Last year she raced in England, Ireland, and France for trainer Henry Cecil and had two wins, including a group III triumph at York.
"It was a different surface today; it was a fast, speed-favoring surface (at Gulfstream)," Mott said. "It was a good pace and just enough cut in the ground where the closers had a chance today. It took her a race to get on track but it looked like a good effort on her part."
Aviate, who carried 117 pounds, paid $13.20, $6.40, and $5. Aruna, the 121-pound co-top weight, returned $6.20 and $4.40, while Fantasia paid $4.60 to show.
The winner earned $135,589, extending her career total to $229,409. Aviate has won four of nine races.