Darley Stabe’s Little Belle battled back in the stretch to fend off Bsharpsonata to capture Saturday’s Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland by a hard-fought neck. The 3-year-old A.P. Indyfilly re-rallied to get the 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in 1:43.69.
Little Belle broke well under jockey Rajiv Maragh and quickly overtook Bsharpsonata for the lead as as the seven-horse field pass the stands for the first time.
“I wanted to get a good position and no really wanted the lead, so I went for it,” Maragh said.
Little Belle took the field through the opening quarter and half-mile in :24.95 and :49.52. Eric Camacho inched Bsharpsonata up to challenge the leader after six furlongs in 1:13.46.
“I knew she hadn’t kicked in yet, so I felt confident,” Maragh said of the winner.
As the two turned for home, Bsharpsonata took the advantage, but Little Belle fought back along the rail to get the victory.
It was 2 1/2 lengths back to second choice Proud Spell in third in the $500,000 Ashland. Life is Sweet,a full sister to champion 2-year-old filly Sweet Catomine, was fourth by a head. Country Star, the favorite and winner of last year’s Darley Alcibiades (gr. II) and Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I), was next, 2 ¼ lengths behind Life is Sweet. She was followed by Absolutely Cindy and African Violet.
It was an afternoon for longshots for 3-year-old colts in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Illinois Derby (gr. II), and Little Belle helped bury the chalk in front of 23,895 at Keeneland. Little regarded at the windows, Little Belle paid $34.20, $11, and $5. Bsharpsonata paid $5.60 and $3.60. Proud Spell, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) March 8, returned $2.40 to show. The 2-4 exacta paid $177.40.
Trained by Lexington native Kiaran McLaughlin, Little Belle entered the Ashland off a win going the same distance in the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 24. Prior to that effort, she had broken her maiden in the slop at Aqueduct Feb. 1.
“She deserved a chance,” said assistant Neal McLaughlin, and brother of the trainer, of the step up to grade I company. “It was a tough spot, but she delivered. We wanted to see if she’s an Oaks filly,”
Little Belle, a homebred, is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Dubai Belle.
The A.P. Indyfillies seem like they want to go a route,” McLaughlin said. “She’s in that same mold. She just wants to run all day.”
The 1 1/8-miles Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) will be run at Churchill Downs May 2.