Stan Fulton's It's No Joke settled just off the pace and took charge in the stretch to win the $232,800 Emirates Airline Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) by a neck over the charging Irene's Mon at Churchill Downs Saturday.
Off to a quick start, It's No Joke led through the first quarter-mile in :23 1/5 while pursued by Straight Line and Magna Graduate. After a half was completed in :45 3/5, Going Wild held a narrow lead and was still in front after six furlongs in 1:10. It's No Joke made up ground in the stretch and got the seven-eighths in 1:22. The final time for a mile over a fast track was 1:34 3/5.
Irene's Mon, ridden by Julien Leparoux, angled five wide in the stretch after racing far back for most of the way, took aim at It's No Joke and just missed. Level Playingfield, John McKee aboard, raced forwardly but tired late.
Magna Graduate, ridden by John Velazquez, finished tenth as the slight 5-2 favorite in the field of 12. Straight Line, who won the Ack Ack in 2005, finished last.
The winner paid $8.80, $4.80, and $3.60. Irene's Mon was second, returning $15.60 and $10.00. Level Playingfield, third in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup (gr. III) last out , was 1 1/2 lengths behind in third and paid $10.60.
Ridden by Robby Albarado for trainer Rebecca Maker, the 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor
, posted his second consecutive graded stakes, having previously won the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II). It's No Joke has now won seven of 15 starts. He improved his record at Churchill Downs to four wins in five starts and earned $134,234 to boost his career bankroll to $679,892.
"He broke really well, and he's been improving in every start," said Maker, who scored her first takes victory at Churchill Downs. "When he broke well, I thought he was going to be very hard to beat. When he gets away well and gets in the clear, he's hard to catch."
Both Maker and Eddie Kenneally, the trainer of Irene's Mon, said their horses would be pointed toward the Grade I, $500,000-added Clark Handicap on Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs.
"He ran a big race," said Kenneally of Irene's Mon. "He's getting good right now, he really is. The horse that won the race is a very, very nice horse."
Papi Chulli finished fourth, followed by Southern Africa, Awesome Twist, Andromeda's Hero, Going Wild, Greeley's Galaxy, Magna Graduate, Cause to Believe, and Straight Line.