Inimitable Romanee, given a patient ride by Alan Garcia, got up at the wire on the far outside to nip Aigue Marine for a 14-1 surprise in the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes (gr. IIIT) April 24 on the Keeneland turf. (VIDEO)
Gallaghers Stud's 6-year-old New York homebred, trained by Graham Motion, prevailed in a time of 2:32.29 on a firm course. She was a head better than Aigue Marine with the late-arriving Caroline Thomas a neck back in third along the inside.
Juddmonte's Romantica, the 7-10 favorite in the field of a dozen older fillies and mares, had a good stalking trip but was out-kicked in her first start since finishing a half-length behind Dank in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). She settled for fourth, beaten by one length.
The Bewitch headlined the next-to-last program at the Keeneland spring meet.
Inimitable Romanee, a daughter of Maria's Mon, has won two of three starts in 2014 after starting the campaign with a one-length upset tally over Aigue Marine in the Very One Stakes (gr. IIIT) at 11 furlongs Feb. 15 on the Gulfstream Park turf. She tired in her next start, the 1 1/2-mile Orchid at Gulfstream, finishing seventh of eight March 29.
This time Inimitable Romanee, overcoming her far outside post, and 20-1 Aigue Marine combined for a $263.80 exacta. Motion won the Bewitch for the second year in a row following Strathnaver in 2013.
Inimitable Romanee raced near mid-pack between horses as Viva Rafaela showed the way over the tracking Aigue Marine, with I Dazzle and Romantica also attending the pace. Viva Rafaela set a comfortable tempo, getting the opening half-mile in 1:51.89, three-quarters in 1:17.41, and the mile in 1:42.82. She reached the quarter pole in 2:07.92 as Aigue Marine drew closer for James Graham and they took the lead from the weakening leader approaching mid-stretch.
The winner was hemmed in around the final turn briefly before shifting to the outside entering the stretch. Seventh at the quarter pole, Inimitable Romanee charged home under left-handed urging from Garcia, passing four horses in the final furlong to find the wire in time. A game Aigue Marine was second best, while Caroline Thomas, closing from eighth at the furlong mark, weaved her way through traffic under Joe Rocco Jr. to come up just short.
"The post position I had was a little difficult," Garcia said. "I had to use my filly a little bit in the first part of the race. After that, I wanted to save all the ground I could. In the last part, I said, 'Let me move out and see if she's good enough.' She was good today; she was the best."
The British-bred Romantica was followed by the Brazilian mare Viva Rafaela, with Always Kitten, Freedom Reigns, Street of Gold, Left a Message, Angel Terrace, I Dazzle, and Stick to Your Guns completing the order.
Romantica, trained in France by Andre Fabre, made her first start for Bill Mott.
"We got perfect position in the race but no pace to run at," said Rodolphe Brisset, Mott's assistan. "With this kind of distance, she didn't show the same kick. We don't think it was a disappointing race; you've just got to start somewhere. That was the right race for now and she's got the whole year to redeem herself."
Inimitable Romanee posted her third graded stakes win from her past four starts in the Betwitch. Bred by Gallagher's Shiraz out of the stakes-winning Kissin Kris mare Cellars Shiraz, she placed in six stakes for New York-breds in 2012 and 2013 before her breakthrough win in the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIIT) Nov. 9 on the Aqueduct Racetrack turf.
Her career began with Amanda Perrett in England where she broke her maiden in her second start. The latest win improved the gray/roan mare's career mark to 5-6-5 in 23 starts with earnings of $473,875.
The winner carried top weight of 123 pounds and paid $31.20, $15.80, and $8.40. The Great Britain-bred Aigue Marine, who began her career in France, is still seeking her first stakes win in the United States for trainer Christophe Clement. She returned $16.40 and $10.60. Caroline Thomas paid $7.60 to show.