Keertana, making her stakes debut, emerged from the leading group with a furlong to run and went on to win the $174,600 Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO), giving jockey Robby Albarado his fifth win on the Stephen Foster program at Churchill Downs June 13.
Well-positioned near the pace while racing well off the rail, the stalking Johar filly inched clear in the final strides and stubbornly held off The Best Day Ever by a neck to post a 6-1 upset in the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-old fillies. Hot Cha Cha finished a neck farther behind in third, with Banker's Choice fourth. The final time was 1:52.02 on firm ground.
Barbara Hunter's winning Kentucky homebred is conditioned by Tom Proctor. Keertana was stepping up into stakes company following a first-level allowance win at 1 1/16 miles on the Churchill course May 30, which produced Albarado's 4,000th career victory.
"I had some great trips and was well-mounted all day," Albarado said. "I got to ride a really good 2-year-old filly (Hot Dixie Chick) for Steve Asmussen, who (set) a track record (five furlongs in :56.48), Macho Again (to win the Stephen Foster Handicap), and this filly (Keertana).
"(Keertana) just keeps getting better with every race. She broke very sharp today and put herself in a forward position. As we went on the backside, I felt a little pressure when a couple of the horses started making a move. She turned them away and then held off the late-closing (Ken) McPeek filly (The Best Day Ever).”
Oculuna, pushed along by the likes of Super Poni, Keertana, Banker's Choice, and Hot Cha Cha, set the pace while leading through comfortable splits of :24.73, :50.48, and 1:15 flat. There was little change in that order as the field struck the homestretch until Keertana, from between horses, got a slight advantage and refused to give in as The Best Day Ever and Corey Lanerie closed in. The wire came just in time for the winner.
Hot Cha Cha, ridden by Jesus Castanon, encountered plenty of traffic late. The second choice in the field of eight was blocked in the lane and was forced to alter course to the outside before shifting toward the inside again for racing room. She, too, was gaining in the final strides but ran out of time.
Prytania, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Julien Leparoux, raced wide at the back of the pack and showed little in the stretch run while finishing seventh.
“I just took her back and saved ground, but she never really ran after that," Leparoux said. "There’s not really much excuse. She just didn’t run today.”
Out of Hunter's Storm Cat mare Motokiks, Keertana won for the third time in eight starts. She earned $105,006 for the victory, boosting her career total to $179,666. Since her first two maiden efforts, the dark bay filly has been in the money in all of her starts.
"She has been in the business forever," Proctor said of Hunter. "I have known her a long time. Last year, we got a lucky and won a little stakes at Arlington Park, and this is even better for her. Robby gets along with Keertana and did a good job."
Proctor said the Virginia Oaks (gr. IIIT) July 18 at Colonial Downs could be next for Keertana.
The winner paid $14.80, $6.60, and $4.20 while topping a $2 exacta worth $96.20. The Best Day Ever, also making her stakes bow for McPeek, returned $8 and $4.40. Hot Cha Cha paid $3.40 to show.
It was 1 1/4 lengths to Banker's Choice, who was followed by Super Poni, Oculuna, Prytania, and Rena. Excelente, Kiss Mine, and Satans Quick Chick scratched.