Don't Tell Sophia, last rounding the far turn, roared down the center of the stretch run to register her first grade I victory in the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (VIDEO) Oct. 5 on the Keeneland main track as overwhelming favorite Close Hatches fizzled.
Stewards reviewed the stretch run after an objection was lodged by Paco Lopez, rider of runner-up Ria Antonia, alleging they were impeded when Don't Tell Sophia drifted in after getting the lead. Stewards ruled there would be no change in the order of finish.
Owned by trainer Philip Sims and Jerry Namy, Don't Tell Sophia was ridden to a 2 1/2-length victory by Joe Rocco Jr. at odds of 11-2. Ria Antonia was second, with Molly Morgan third. Close Hatches, the 1-5 choice in the field of six fillies and mares, set the pace before weakening to fourth.
The final time was 1:49.80 for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.
Don't Tell Sophia, a 6-year-old daughter of Congaree bred in Kentucky by Stonerside Stable, earned an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) Oct. 31 at Santa Anita Park as part of the "Win & You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge series. She is out of the graded stakes-placed mare Lost Expectations, by Valid Expectations.
"She's tough as nails," said Sims, indicating they would go on to the Breeders' Cup if all goes well coming out of the Spinster. "She shows up every time. We're so delighted with her."
The result, with Close Hatches out of the money, created some unusual show prices. Don't Tell Sophia paid $13.40, $7, and $14.60 across the board. Ria Antonia, off at 16-1 odds, returned $20 and $37, while 23-1 Molly Morgan paid $30.20 to show. The exacta was worth $138.20, and the trifecta came back $754.40 for a $2 wager.
Unhurried into stride while trailing the field for the opening six furlongs, Don't Tell Sophia was some 10 lengths off the pace set by Close Hatches, who was hard-pressed by Ria Antonia after a quarter mile. The bay mare commenced her winning bid at the three-eighths pole, circling the field five wide into the lane and stretching out powerfully as she collared Ria Antonia near the furlong mark.
Don't Tell Sophia, carrying 124 pounds, drifted in a bit after taking control, forcing Lopez to steady slightly aboard Ria Antonia, but she then drew off in impressive style.
Close Hatches, looking for a fourth consecutive grade I victory with Joel Rosario riding once again, was given no breathers by Ria Antonia, who turned up the pressure after a :24.19 opening split. Close Hatches was only a head in front after a :47.47 half mile, and Ria Antonia, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner, poked her head in front after six furlongs in 1:11.71.
"It worked out more or less like we thought," said Rocco, who has had plenty of experience with Don't Tell Sophia. "She kind of gallops behind them and does her thing back there. When it comes time for her to put in her run, it sure is explosive.
"That's how she likes to do it. We knew that Close Hatches on paper looked like the lone speed but we can't take (Don't Tell Sophia) out of her comfort zone. It all worked out. She's an amazing mare."
As for the inquiry, Rocco said, "We went by (Ria Antonia) so fast and it felt like it was very marginal. I didn't think we came in very much, so I was pretty confident it would stand. But you still cross your fingers until they put the official up there."
Ria Antonia, after getting control of the lead, was no match for the winner in the final furlong but finished 2 1/4 lengths clear of Molly Morgan and Corey Lanerie. In a spread out finish Close Hatches was 2 1/2 lengths father back in fourth, followed by Got Lucky and Shuruq, both of whom stalked the pace and came up empty.
"(The winner) came by a little bit quick," Lopez said of the incident in the stretch. "(Don't Tell Sophia) was a little close. I wanted to take a shot (by claiming foul)—you never know."
A remarkably consistent mare, Don't Tell Sophia was coming off a win in the Locust Grove Stakes at Churchill Downs Sept. 6 and has now won four of her past five starts. In her only prior grade I try, she was third behind On Fire Baby in the 2013 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I).
One would have to go back to an allowance race at Keeneland in October 2012 when fourth to find the last time Don't Tell Sophia was not in the money, a string of 13 races that includes eight victories. Her only prior graded stakes win, however, came in the Chilukki (gr. II) at Churchill 11 months ago. She has a career line of 11-4-3 in 22 starts with earnings of $979,295.
Rosario offered no excuse for Close Hatches.
"I thought she broke really well and she took me good for a little bit, but when (Ria Antonia) came to me she kind of stayed there," he said. "She gave me a little bit, but normally when they come to her she keeps on going and improves her position. Probably today was not her day."