Jay A. Lieberman's Sabellina won a head bob by a nose over English invader Silca's Sister following a terrific stretch duel between the two Sunday in the $171,750 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares on the Churchill Downs turf course.
The 3-year-old Silca's Sister, a French group I winner making her first U.S. start for Godolphin Racing, took the race right to her American rivals, scooting to the lead from her outside post shortly after the start and settling into a comfortable pace on the firm course. Sabellina, racing in fourth on the outside, was never far behind as Silca's Sister and Carolina Sky traded the lead through fractions of :24 3/5, :49 1/5 and 1:13 3/5. Sabellina, ridden by Julien Leparoux, drew even mid-stretch after Carolina Sky backed out and was edging away by a half-length inside the furlong marker. But Silca's Sister, with Robby Albarado aboard, fought back along the inside and appeared to put her nose in front for the final couple of jumps. However, the photo went to the Charles Simon-trained Sabellina. The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:49 4/5.
"I thought I got beat at the wire, actually, so it's very nice to come back and win," Leparoux said.
"It was a little closer than to my liking, but I like to be a nose in front rather than a nose behind," said Simon. "When he moved, I thought we had (Silca's Sister) put away, to be honest with you. Silca's Sister fought really hard."
The New York-bred Sabellina, a 5-year-old Langfuhr
mare, snapped a seven-race losing streak that included a head defeat in the restricted Ticonderoga Handicap on a sloppy Belmont inner turf course in her last start Oct. 21. The victory was her second in 11 starts in 2006.
The classy Silca's Sister, a daughter of Inchinor, defeated males in the 2005 Prix Morny (Fr-I) at Deauville but had started just twice since then. She ran fourth in the English One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) at Newmarket in May and finished sixth in Royal Ascot's Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) in her last start June 23.
Royal Copenhagen, ridden by Eddie Castro, was the best of the rest, finishing third while 2 1/4 lengths behind. The slight 7-2 favorite Rich in Spirit took fourth under Mark Guidry, a half-length behind Royal Copenhagen.
Sabellina improved her career record to 7-5-4 in 32 starts with her third win in the past two years. The $100,100 winner' share Sunday increased her lifetime earnings to $515,190.
The victory was the fifth stakes win at Churchill Downs for Leparoux with all of those wins coming in 2006. It was the second stakes victory at the track for Simon.
"Julien and I have had a lot of luck," Simon said. "I think he's six-for-seven riding for me. He's an exceptional rider, and I just said to him, if you could just get her to take back a little bit and try to keep her off the lead, we should be well-positioned."
The sixth choice in the field of 11, Sabellina paid $20.60, $8.60 and $6.80. Silca's Sister returned $6.20 and $5.20 while completing a $139 exacta. Royal Copenhagen was $7.80 to show.
Rich in Spirit, who carried top co-top weight of 118 pounds, was followed by More Than Promised, Dash of Humor, Stormina, Black Java, Amorama, Beautiful Bets and Carolina Sky. Dynamist scratched.