All it took for Acoma to get back on track was a little home cooking.
The multiple graded stakes winning filly, who entered off couple of disappointing starts, made it a perfect 3-for-3 on the Churchill Downs turf course when she outfought You Go West Girl by a head to win the $111,700 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) on Nov. 21.
A 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, Acoma notched the sixth graded stakes victory of her stellar career and her fourth in Louisville. All three of her victories on the Churchill grass have come in graded company. She won the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) a year ago and the Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) in June. In addition, the David Carroll trainee is undefeated in two starts on Churchill’s main track, including a win in the Dogwood (gr. III) as a sophomore.
"She loves it here, obviously," Carroll said. "She’d been training beautifully. Normally I’d go into this race with tremendous confidence but she came off a poor race and I was little bit more subdued. When she walked into the paddock today . . . she’s just a beautiful filly. When I saw her warm up she was on her toes."
With Jesus Castanon riding for the first time, Acoma raced mid-pack in the nine-furlong Cardinal. When they rounded the far turn, she edged closer to the front but was still behind My Baby Baby, Leamington and Lemon Chiffon, the post time favorite who made a bold, sweeping move under Jon Court around the turn to take a narrow lead at the eighth-pole.
Acoma engulfed those three rivals in upper stretch, but still had to deal with You Go West Girl, who had saved ground during a perfect trip under Jose Lezcano and forged a narrow advantage approaching the sixteenth-pole. Acoma continued her assault from the outside, stuck her nose in front of You Go West Girl in deep stretch, and held on gamely for her third win this season.
The final time on a fast turf course was 1:50.02. You Go West Girl was 3 1/4 lengths in front of third place Lemon Chiffon.
"I had a heck of a good trip around today," said Castanon, who got the mount because regular rider Julien Leparoux was in California. "I waited as long as I could before I made a move toward home. When I finally moved for home, she really had a great turn of foot. When we went around the turn for the first time she was in the bridle, but when we were on the backside she really began to settle in nicely and relax. She really just seems to love it here."
Acoma entered the Cardinal off two subpar showings. She was sixth in the July 19 Delaware Handicap (gr. II) on dirt, an effort Carroll excused after her blood work came back poor. She was ninth in the Oct. 1 First Lady (gr. IT) at Keeneland. In that one, Carroll was hoping it was the soft turf that kept her from running her best race.
Now 8-1-2 from 14 career starts, Acoma has earned $665,999 for her owners/breeders, Helen Alexander and Helen Groves. She was bred in Kentucky and is out of the Danzig mare Aurora.
Carroll said Acoma would likley return for a 5-year-old campaign and even hinted at a run in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), which will be at Churchill in 2010.
The second choice, Acoma paid $9.40, $5, and $3.40. The exacta (3-1) returned $54.80 and the trifecta (3-1-9) was $269.40.
Long Approach was fourth, followed by Social Queen, My Baby Baby, Leamington, Tizfiz, and Zaskar, who set the pace and posted fractions of :24.11, :48.55, and 1:13.45 before finishing last.