Fox Ridge Farm's Riskaverse, an also-ran in four consecutive grade I starts, found a group of fillies and mares more to her liking Saturday with a three-quarters of a length victory in the $175,200 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Churchill Downs turf.
Riskaverse, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland in October 2002, became racing newest millionaire with her seventh win in 21 career starts.
Ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, the 5-2 second choice Riskaverse saved ground from her inside post before angling out in the stretch, where she engaged front-running favorite Bien Nicole on the outside and edged away in a game effort. Firth of Lorne was third, some four lengths farther back. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile on a firm course was 1:50 2/5.
"I was confident that I would catch the other filly (Bien Nicole)," said Velasquez, who notched his fourth stakes win at Churchill Downs. "My filly was the best grass filly in the race. The trainer told me to put her in the clear and that she would go and she did."
The Patrick Kelly-trained 4-year-old Dynaformer filly had lost six races in a row since winning her 2003 debut over allowance foes at Belmont Park in May. She was sixth in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita last month, beaten by five lengths by Islington. In three prior grade I tries, she was fourth in the Flower Bowl at Belmont, third in the Beverly D at Arlington and fourth in the Diana at Saratoga.
"She ran great," said the New York-based Kelly. "She's been running hard all year. She's been right there all year and today was a good day."
Bien Nicole, the 2-1 choice with Don Pettinger in the irons, took over the lead from Dyna Da Wyna and Pat Day soon after an opening quarter mile in :24 1/5. She assumed control after a half-mile in :49 1/5, and held the lead through six furlongs in 1:13 4/5 and a mile in 1:38 1/5. Riskaverse, running comfortably after settling down into the first turn, tracked the leaders from the rail and won the duel with Bien Nicole to the wire.
The Irish-bred Firth of Lorne, Mark Johnston riding, rallied for third after following Riskaverse into the stretch along the inside, a length ahead of Peacefally, Dyna Da Wyna and Delmonico Cat, who were each separated by a nose for fourth through sixth.
Bien Nicole, ninth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in her last start, won the WinStar Galaxy (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in her previous start. She was second to Heat Haze, defeating Riskaverse in the Beverly D Aug. 16.
The homebred Riskaverse, who picked up $108,624 for Peter Schiff's Fox Ridge Farm with the victory, has a career line of 7-4-4 in and earnings of $1,000,234. It was the second Cardinal victory for owner Fox Ridge Farm and trainer Pat Kelly. Christiecat captured the 1991 renewal.
Riskaverse, who won her fourth stakes on turf, was produced by the Seeking the Gold mare The Bink.
She paid $7.40, $3.60 and $2.80. Bien Nicole returned $3.60 and $3. Firth of Lorne's show was $4.40. The $2 exacta was worth $19.40.
Janeian was seventh, followed by San Dare, Quick Tip, Dick's Chick, Delicatessa and Golden Rhythm.