William S. and Graydon Patterson’s Juanita overtook heavily-favored Plum Pretty in upper stretch and ran off to a 16-1 upset under Ramon Dominguez in the $327,000 La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) May 4 at Churchill Downs.
The 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft crossed the wire two lengths ahead of St. John's River in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race for fillies and mares. Plum Pretty, last year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner and the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) victor in April, faded to third as the 2-5 choice.
Juanita completed the distance on the fast dirt track in 1:42.82. The La Troienne was the first graded race on Kentucky Oaks day.
Bred in Kentucky by Padua Stables and out of the Smart Strike mare Wishful Splendor, the dark bay/brown filly notched her second graded victory. She won the Indiana Oaks (gr. II) a year ago.
"Her style is to be forwardly placed and she’s been doing great," said winning trainer Mike Maker. "She ran just behind Havre De Grace last time so we gave it a shot. We were going to run in Chicago, but when they retired Havre de Grace, it made the decision easy.”
Juanita improved to 6-3-3 from 16 starts and earnings of $485,328.
Dominguez gave Juanita the perfect stalking trip behind Plum Pretty, who set opening splits of :24.39 and :48.36 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Juanita was just off the pacesetter from the outside and nearly pulled even with her entering the final turn. The time for six furlongs was 1:11.79.
Juanita took over at the top of the lane and methodically inched away from Plum Pretty. St. John’s River, second in the Kentucky Oaks last year, finished well for second under Rosie Napravnik after being well back early on.
“The favorite went to the lead and I was happy to sit right next to her,” Dominguez said. “When we got to the half-mile pole I was feeling pretty good just by looking at Plum Pretty and seeing that she was already being encouraged a little bit. At that point I felt like I had more horse than her, just visually, looking at her and how mine felt.
“Mike (Maker) is a guy that I respect very much," Castellano continued. "He and I seem to always be on the same page. There are few words exchanged prior to the race. If there’s something I need to know he will tell me, otherwise he usually lets me play it by ear and that was the case today. He just let me ride my race and it worked out great.”
The winner paid $35.40, $13.20, and $5. The exacta (5-2) returned $228.60, and the trifecta (5-2-4) was worth $455.60.
Absinthe Minded finished fourth, followed by Afleeting Lady, Maristar, and Love Theway Youare.
“I was very comfortable on the lead,” Bejarano said of beaten favorite Plum Pretty. “I thought I was going to gallop after a half-mile because we were going so slow and I was really comfortable. For some reason, when we felt the other horse come running next to me, I let her go. She showed me a good kick and it looked like she was going to keep running, but she showed me the same thing the last time when she ran here in the Breeders’ Cup (Ladies’ Classic). I was real easy on the lead and she stopped right away in the stretch. There was no excuse. She had a good trip. There was no pressure, but she just quit in the stretch.”