It felt a little like Christmas at Keeneland Saturday, where temperatures approached freezing. Naturally, Christmas Kid felt right at home in winning the $500,000 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies and becoming a major contender for next month's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Jockey Rene Douglas took advantage of an opening along the rail at the top of the stretch and Christmas Kid accelerated through it to open a two-length lead inside the final furlong. But she was hard-ridden in the final yards to hold off the fast-closing Octave, the 3-5 favorite who missed by a head with Garrett Gomez aboard.
James Jerkens trains the winner for owner/breeder Edward P. Evans.
Christmas Kid needed racing room coming off the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile Ashland and she got it when early leader Mistical Plan drifted out slightly under Robby Albarado nearing the three-sixteenths pole. Douglas needed every yard to hold off the unlucky Octave, who was bumped and squeezed at the start, bumped again on the final turn and rallied six wide. Christmas Kid appeared to jump the tracks left by the starting gate near the finish.
“She kicked in down the stretch unbelievably,” said Douglas. “I know Todd Pletcher’s filly (Octave) and she’s a nice filly. She was coming, but my horse had plenty left. I was very happy with the way she ran today.”
It was three-quarters of a length back to third-place Dawn After Dawn, a 54-1 outsider. The final time was 1:42 4/5 on the all-weather track.
Mistical Plan, a romping winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) in her last start for owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill, set fractions of :24, :47 3/5 and 1:12 4/5, but had nothing left for the stretch drive under Alberado, who was riding her for the first time.
A daughter of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Green Desert mare Christmas Gift, Christmas Kid added the Ashland to previous victories this year in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park and the Tropical Park Oaks on the turf at Calder. She was coming off a second-place finish to Ashland rival High Again in Gulfstream's Bonnie Miss (gr. II) March 10. High Again finished fourth Saturday.
She earned $310,000 for Evans and increased her career bankroll to $526,587 with her fourth lifetime win in seven tries. The winner paid $21, $5.80 and $4.20 as the fifth choice in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies.
The field was reduced to eight starters when Hucking Hot, a recent arrival from California, unseated jockey Rafael Bejarano and ran off shortly before the start of the Ashland.
Octave, runner-up to champion Dreaming of Anna in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) last fall, rallied from next-to-last under Gomez to finish second in her fourth consecutive race.
“Once she got moving, she came running,” said Gomez. “She ran a good race.”
Octave returned $2.40 and $2.20 and Dawn After Dawn, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, paid $7.80 to show.
Fourth-place finisher High Again was followed by Mistical Plan, Grace Happens, Silver Knockers and Elitist.