La Coronel Much the Best in Appalachian
Photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography
La Coronel pulls away to win the Appalachian by 3 1/4 lengths

Her connections have never been shy about hanging the weight of expectations on La Coronel's shoulders. 

During her juvenile season, trainer Mark Casse was already invoking the filly's name in the same breath as the 2015 Canadian Horse of the Year with whom she shares a barn. And even when she drew the worst of post positions in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) last November, the thinking was that if any youngster had the talent to overcome such a poor starting spot, it was John Oxley's dark bay distaffer.

More than five months after falling short in that Breeders' Cup, La Coronel got her redemption by proving much the best over those who were best in November when she drew clear by 3 1/4 lengths in the Keeneland stretch to win the $125,000 Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (G3T) April 13.

Though technically a grade 3, the one-mile Appalachian assembled a top-level bunch that was a reunion of last fall's Juvenile Fillies Turf with four of the top six finishers from that test in the 11-horse field, including winner New Money Honey and runner-up Coasted.

La Coronel ended up sixth as the betting favorite Nov. 4 after getting an extremely wide trip out of post 13—a result that particularly stung Casse given he had deemed the daughter of Colonel John "the next Catch a Glimpse" in reference to the 2015 Juvenile Fillies winner. After getting her back home, however, they discovered the post position wasn't La Coronel's only excuse that day as she ended up having minor surgery to remove chips in both knees.

"She's an amazing horse. I hadn't really said anything to anybody but she had double knee surgery after the Breeders' Cup," said Casse, who also saddled Catch a Glimpse to victory in the 2016 edition of the Appalachian. "For her to come back and do what she's done is amazing. She's an extremely, extremely talented horse. (Jockey) Florent (Geroux) said he only let her run for about an eighth of a mile.

"This was the toughest grade 3 I've ever seen. But she went to Ocala as a little girl this winter and came back a lady. I'm proud of her ... and this was definitely a team effort."

Where New Money Honey hadn't raced since her Breeders' Cup triumph, La Coronel was able to get some fitness under her belt heading into the Appalachian. She ran second by a neck during her seasonal bow in the March 11 Florida Oaks (G3T) at Tampa Bay Downs.

Geroux took some heat for his ride on La Coronel in that outing, but the reinsman was on point in his handling of the 7-2 second choice in the Appalachian. He also won the race last year aboard Catch a Glimpse.

Breaking from post 2, Geroux rated his filly off the rail in third as 77-1 longshot Like a Hurricane took the field through an opening quarter in :23.89 and a half in :49.13 on the firm turf. With a quarter mile to run, Rusty Arnold trainee Morticia ranged up from her stalking position and took a brief lead in midstretch, but the advantage was short lived once La Coronel found room between that one and the tiring pacesetter.

With nothing but daylight between her and the wire, La Coronel flaunted the same kick that drove her to a handy victory in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (G3T) over the Keeneland course in October, hitting the line in 1:37.12.

"I'm thrilled, I'm in orbit right now," said Oxley, who earned a Keeneland Tray in recognition of his eighth graded stakes win at the track and also has reigning juvenile champion Classic Empire set to run in the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15. "It was a great ride and this filly is just exceptional. I've been running here at Keeneland since the 1970s and I never thought about even getting to this point to win the tray. It's just an honor."

Morticia ran a big race after sitting second off the early fractions to hold for runner-up honors, edging Proctor's Ledge by a head. Graded stakes winner Dream Dancing, who is also owned by Oxley and trained by Casse, ran on to get fourth with Bellavais fifth and New Money Honey never finding her rhythm as she came home sixth.

"I am disappointed. She had been training so well," said Chad Brown, trainer of New Money Honey. "We'll bring her back to Belmont Park and race her there on a course we know she likes. I can't use the layoff as an excuse because she had been training so well and our team is so good at getting them ready. (Jockey Javier Castellano) just didn't have any horse turning for home."

La Coronel paid $9.40, $5.20, and $3.60 across the board. G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s Morticia, sent off at 34-1, paid $28.40 to place and $13.80 to show in her graded stakes debut. Patricia Moseley's Proctor's Ledge returned $8 to show in her stakes debut.

Bred in Kentucky by Kim Nardelli, Rodney Nardelli, Susan Bunning, and A. Jaffreys and B. Jaffreys, La Coronel improved her record to three wins from seven starts, though her first two losses came on dirt. Having solidified Casse's belief that she has what it takes to be the best turf female of her class, La Coronel could face males next time out.

"I'm thinking about it. You may see her run at Churchill (in the grade 2 American Turf May 6)," Casse said. "We've been known to take on the colts before so we may do that."

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