Hot Cha Cha used a ground-saving trip under James Graham and outdueled three rivals along the hedge in the final furlong to win the $110,800 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by three-quarters of a length June 5 at Churchill Downs.
Winner of the grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland last fall, Hot Cha Cha was winless in two starts this season, but missed by just over a length in both—the April 10 Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) when third and May 1 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) when runner-up. The 4-year-old daughter of Cactus Ridge earned her fourth graded-stakes win and six victory overall. Philip Sims trains the dark bay/brown filly for owner-breeder Nelson McMakin.
Hot Cha Cha was never far back in the early going of the 1 1/16-mile turf race, saving ground while longshot Winter’s Circle led the way through easy opening splits of :25.44 and :49.32. My Baby Baby, stalking under Brian Hernandez Jr., took over approaching the quarter-pole, but her lead was short-lived, as favored Keertana struck the front at the top of the lane.
With Jon Court in the irons, Keertana held a short advantage over My Baby Baby and Hot Cha Cha in upper stretch, while Acoma, the winner of this race last year, was coming from the center of the course after being well back early on. My Baby Baby continued to wear down Keertana in deep stretch and had enough to hold off Acoma at the wire.
The final time on the firm going was 1:43.27. Acoma and Corey Lanerie were a head in front of Keertana for the runner-up spot.
Hot Cha Cha, bred in Kentucky and out of the Broad Brush mare Reduced Sentence, upper her earnings to $726,717 from 15 starts.
“It was a good race," Sims said. "We got a great trip with James, and he kept her out of trouble, which helped us out. We beat some nice fillies in Acoma and Keertana, so we are very proud of her race today.
"Right now, the Beverly D. (grade I, at Arlington Park Aug. 21) is what we are looking at. The Modesty (grade II at Arlington Park July 17) and possibly the Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill (grade III July 3) are possible races as well. We will take her back to Keeneland tonight.”
The winner, who carried 120 pounds, paid $5.20, $3, and $2.20. The exacta (5-6) returned $20 and the trifecta (5-6-7) was worth $29.