Shaconage, fourth entering the stretch, got rolling late with jockey Brice Blanc to take over in the final sixteenth of a mile in the $165,750 Locust Grove Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Churchill Downs turf Saturday.
The 4-year-old El Prado
filly scored by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 7-1 over Halory Leigh (29-1), who flew late to nab front-running Sand Springs by a nose at the wire for second. The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was a stakes record 1:46 3/5 over a firm course.
Riskaverse, the 3-5 favorite in the field of six with Pat Day in the irons, was not involved after stalking the early pace and looming dangerously at the hedge in upper stretch, finishing fifth.
"I was comfortably placed, had every opportunity off the turn, got about a neck off of Mark's filly (Mark Guidry on Sand Springs) and then just kind of collapsed," said Day. "She had nothing from the eighth pole to the wire."
Sand Springs, with Mark Guidry aboard, carved out a sensible pace (:23 4/5, :47, 1:10 3/5 and 1:34 3/5) and repelled a couple of challengers in the stretch before giving way late in a game effort.
Shaconage, who was in hand early while racing four wide, advanced steadily around the turn and won willingly while racing somewhat erratically through the stretch.
"My filly eased back," said Blanc, who won his fourth stakes of the current Churchill meet. "I can't really change her style too much. She finished up and she's very game -- she gives you what she's got when she's right."
Trained by Mitch Shirota for owner Andrena Van Doren, Shaconage won for the fifth time in 15 lifetime starts while notching her second graded stakes of the meeting. She won the Argent Mortgage (gr. IIIT) on May 1 at odds of 19-1 before regressing in the Early Times Mint Julep (gr. IIIT) with a fifth-place showing May 29. She banked $102,765 for the victory and increased her career earnings to $325,462.
Shirota won his first stakes in more than 30 years of training when Shaconage won the Argent Mortgage.
"I can't say this is better than the Derby Day win, the first one was really a thrill," Shirota said. "But the way she won this race – it can't get much better than this.
"She was a little stupid in the paddock last time (in the Mint Julep). She tried to get stupid in there today, but I kept walking her around and walking her around. But when she's high-strung like that, she runs good."
Shirota said Shaconage would take some time off and come back later in the summer at Arlington Park or Saratoga.
The winner paid $16.40, $7.80 and $4.80. Halory Leigh, ridden by John McKee, returned $22.20 and $8.80 and completed a $304.60 exacta. Sand Springs was $3.80 to show.