Favored French Park jumped from the maiden ranks to graded stakes winner with a sharp 1 3/4-length triumph over a full field in the $120,600 Pocahontas (gr. III) for 2-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs Saturday.
Trained by Helen Pitts and ridden by Mark Guidry, French Park reached the front with a quarter-mile to go, fought off a challenge from Dance Daily in upper stretch, and drew clear from the field late to win under strong handling.
French Park gave Pitts, a former assistant to conditioner Ken McPeek, her first stakes victory at Churchill Downs. But Pitts, who took over the training of most of McPeek's stable when he retired from training in July, almost bypassed the Pocahontas with the inexperienced filly.
French Park won her debut, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight, by 12 1/4 lengths in front-running style Oct. 20 at Keeneland.
"I just thought it was a big jump to go from a maiden win to a stake like this," said Pitts. "She certainly proved to us at Keeneland in winning by 12 that it was a good enough reason to try something like this, but at the same time it's a big step for her."
The closer Trippi Street encountered heavy traffic at the top of the stretch, angled extremely wide for room, and worked her way through the field late to finish second under Robby Albarado, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Coolwind and Eusebio Razo Jr. The final time for the one-turn mile was 1:37 on a fast track.
Mykindasaint, ridden by David Flores and coming off a sixth place effort in the Frizette (gr. I) at Belmont on Oct. 8, sped to the early lead in the Pocahontas and took the field through fractions of :22.17 for the quarter and :45.12 for half before she gave way and started dropping back to an eventual last-place finish.
Guidry settled French Park into third for the run down the backstretch before he swung her to the outside of the fading Mykindasaint on the turn for home. Dance Daily moved with French Park and the pair battled for the lead in upper stretch, but French Park edged clear in the final eighth and easily held off the late-running Trippi Street.
"I was getting worried because I thought something would come rolling and get us," said Guidry, who won his seventh stakes race at Churchill Downs. "That's always a worry when you're in front - you always worry about the rest of them behind you. But she ran great and I was very happy to be on her and be a part of it."
Pitts also saddled Lady Danza, a 68-1 shot that finished fourth in the race.
French Park, who earned $74,772 for owners Steve and Stan Kaplan's Stevestan Stables, is now undefeated in two starts.
Marvin Delfiner bred the gray/roan filly who is by Ecton Park
out of the Darn That Alarm mare Alarming Prospect, in Kentucky. She was a $75,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton July Kentucky yearling sale in 2004.
The 2-1 choice French Park paid $6, $3.80, and $3.
Trippi Street, who won her maiden debut less than a month ago at Hawthorne, returned $5 and $4.20.
"I had a lot of traffic trouble, but she finished nicely," said Albarado of Trippi Street. "I just encountered a lot of trouble and couldn't beat the winner today. She finished strong. She's a nice filly."
Coolwind, who also turned in a strong closing effort, was $6.20 to show.
It was a head back to Lady Danza, who was followed by Dance Daily, 3-1 second choice Performing Diva, Trick's Pic, More Than Pretty, Maggie Slew, Wild Tonight, Motion, and Mykindasaint.
Swept Gold, bet to 9-2, was scratched at the gate.