In a fierce stretch battle beneath the Twin Spires, Padua Stables' Authenticity held off stubborn On Fire Baby to take the $335,100 La Troienne Stakes presented by Steelcase and ORI (gr. II) by a head.
Even-money favorite Believe You Can, winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) was 4 3/4 lengths back in third (VIDEO).
Authenticity was the fourth choice in a seven-horse field for the 1 1/16-mile La Troienne, the first of five stakes (four of them graded) on the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and the workmate for Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender Verrazano , Authenticity set a stakes record of 1:42.09 over a fast track in the La Troienne. The previous stakes record was 1:42.43 set by Shadow Cast in 2005.
Anita Cauley's homebred On Fire Baby broke on top from post 5 in the event for older fillies and mares, but was quickly challenged by Authenticity and jockey John Velazquez, who secured the rail as they went around the first turn.
Authenticity and On Fire Baby, ridden by Joe Johnson, separated themselves from the pack early on while setting sensible fractions of :24.80, :48.45, and 1:12.39 over a fast track. Second choice More Chocolate and Believe You Can sat off the leading pair, but neither made much headway when the field straightened for home.
Holding her rail slot heading down the stretch, Authenticity continued her duel with On Fire Baby as they hit the sixteenth pole together after getting the mile in 1:36.02.
Authenticity carried 118 pounds in the La Troienne, five fewer than the grade I-winning runner-up.
On Fire Baby was the third choice in the La Troienne off her strong score in the April 12 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr.I) at Oaklawn Park in her 2013 debut. She was fifth behind Believe You Can in last year's Oaks.
"This is a huge win for us on a number of fronts," Pletcher said. "This mare has been working in company with Verrazano. That goes a long way toward solidifyng what he's been doing. It's also Johnny's first win back in only his second ride (since being injured last month). And we're winning a good race against a good mare, so it was good, good, good."
A lightly raced 6-year-old mare by Quiet American out of the Deputy Minister mare Court of Appeal, Authenticity was bred in Kentucky by Dixiana Stables. She was making only her seventh career start in the La Troienne, but it marked her fourth start of the year. She broke her maiden in her second outing back in late June of 2011 at Churchill, then was away from the races healing from a condylar fracture until January of this year.
"I was cautiously optimistic," said Sasha Sanan, son of Padua Stables owner Satish Sanan."I have the most respect for Believe You Can and On Fire Baby, and I thought our filly would give a good accounting of herself. Beyond that I thought we got lucky with a favorable trip and she stepped her game up to a new level."
Authenticity ran third in January, then won by 17 1/2 lengths in an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park before she ran second to Ciao Bella in her black-type debut March 30 in Gulfstream's Rampart Stakes (gr. III). The La Troienne victory, worth $203,607 improved her record to 3-2-1 with earnings of $313,362.
"I just left her alone and she went from there," Velazquez said. "I asked her to run and she ran and the other horse was coming at me. I wasn't sure, but every time the other horse came to her, she gave another spurt."
Authenticity paid $12.20, $4.80, and $3.40. On Fire Baby paid $4.80 and $2.80, while Believe You Can returned $2.20 to show. The 2-5 exacta paid $57.
Class Included, who was cross-entered in the May 4 Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT), finished 2 1/2 lengths back in fourth, and was followed by More Chocolate, Imposing Grace, and Draw It.