Leah's Secret, up against an easier field than she faced in two starts this summer, drew clear in the stretch and held off the late charge of Unforgotten to win the $170,400 Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) by a half-length at Churchill Downs Nov. 2.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for WinStar Farm, the 5-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Tiger Ridge was ridden to victory by Rene Douglas. Leah's Secret, who came into the race as the field's leading money earner, completed the one-mile event for fillies and mares in 1:35.68, more than two seconds off the track mark established by Chilukki in 2000.
Breaking from post 9 in the 10-horse field, Leah's Secret was forwardly placed by Douglas while three paths off the rail. Initforthekandy set off on the lead under Robby Albarado while clicking off even fractions of :23.35, :46.51 and 1:10.66 with Super Freaky applying the pressure from the outside. Leah's Secret moved into contention on her own leaving the turn, finally getting the lead when asked to go by Douglas just past the eighth pole. She left the tiring Initforthekandy behind and opened up a daylight advantage.
Leah's Secret finished in a drive under steady handling as 21-1 shot Unforgotten, ninth after six furlongs, gained ground late on the outside under Miguel Mena while running out of time. Unforgotten finished three-quarters of a length in front of Swift Temper and Kent Desormeaux, who gained mildly while racing wide to overtake Initforthekandy for the show spot.
"You’ve got to time it perfectly with her," Douglas said, noting that she stopped after getting a two-length lead in the Arlington Matron (gr. III) May 26, which was the first time he rode her. "She got the lead and then she just kind of waited for horses and I got beat.
"Today, I said all I need to do is to time it right with this filly, and if everything goes right we’ll win. I wasn’t scared of anyone in the race. I was scared more of the timing. I didn’t want to be too far back, but I didn’t want to give this horse a chance to stop. I actually got the lead a little earlier than I expected – I didn’t want it that early. That’s why I kept looking on the outside, because I didn’t want to make that move. She’s a nice filly against anybody, but timing is the key with her.”
Copper State, the 2-1 favorite, stalked in the first half of the pack before being angled out for the drive by jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, but lacked a needed response in the lane and finished fifth.
The winner came into the Chilukki after tiring in Belmont Park's 1 1/16-mile Beldame (gr. I) Sept. 27, where she finished last of four while nearly 22 lengths behind the victorious Cocoa Beach, who upset Ginger Punch on a sloppy track that day. Prior to that, Leah's Secret split the field in the seven-furlong Ballerina (gr. I) at Saratoga, finishing four lengths behind Intangaroo. She won the Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park prior to that, her only win in six prior starts in 2008.
Overall, Leah's Secret improved to 7-4-2 in 24 lifetime starts. Her third graded stakes win was worth $100,366 and she has now banked $775,805. She has won three of six starts on the Churchill main track.
"She’s run consistently well for us and we had a big second there to Ginger Punch in the spring (in the grade II Louisville), so we knew she liked the track and felt like she was doing well," Pletcher said. "So it was nice to see her step up and run a big one.”
Pletcher said Churchill's $200,000 Falls City (gr. II) on Thanksgiving Day was a possible next start.
“It seems like she really excels at a one turn," he said. "A one-turn mile may be her best trip.”
Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds bred the winning dark bay mare in Florida. She is out of Lady Cruella, by Capote.
Sent off as the second choice, Leah's Secret paid $8.60, $4.80 and $3.80 while topping a $129.40 exacta. Unforgotten, coming off a second-place finish in the Kentucky Cup Distaff (gr. III) on the Turfway Park Polytrack Sept. 27, returned $16.20 and $9 for trainer Dallas Stewart. Swift Temper, winner of the Gardenia Handicap (gr. III) for Dale Romans in her last start, was $5.40 to show.
Initforthekandy and Copper State were followed by Tiz to Dream, Amazing Speed, Super Freaky, Marquee Delivery and Striking Tomisue. Morning line favorite Baroness Thatcher was scratched by trainer Bill Mott.