Showing her affinity for Churchill Downs' main track, Anita Cauley's homebred On Fire Baby took the lead coming out of the second turn and wore down pacesetter Devil's Cave to win the La Troienne Stakes (gr. I) Presented by the World Series of Polo May 2. (VIDEO)
Breaking from the outside 6 post under regular jockey Joe Johnson in the 1 1/16-mile race, On Fire Baby settled just off Devil's Cave, who took the field through fractions of :24.27, :47.51, and 1:11.32. Rounding the second turn, the gray 5-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken picked it up and collared Devil's Cave at the head of the stretch.
Continuing her momentum, On Fire Baby edged clear in mid-stretch and drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Molly Morgan, who closed from well back on the outside for second. The final time was 1:43.48.
On Fire Baby, trained by Churchill-based Gary Hartlage, paid $5.20, $3.40, and $2.40 as the 8-5 favorite. Molly Morgan, ridden by Corey Lanerie, returned $9 and $3.60. Devil's Cave and Javier Castellano held third at $2.80, finishing 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Magic Union, bumped at the start and steadied in the first turn, finished fourth, followed by 2-1 second choice Unlimited Budget and Liberated.
The victory was the sixth in 15 starts for On Fire Baby, who has three wins—all in graded stakes—and a second in five starts at Churchill. The La Troienne winner's purse of $200,713 pushed On Fire Baby past the seven-figure mark in career earnings with $1,082,687.
On Fire Baby was bred in Kentucky and is out of the Gilded Time mare Ornate.
The mare won the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) and Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) in back-to-back starts at Churchill as a 2-year-old in fall 2012. She finished second by a head to Authenticity in the 2013 edition of the La Troienne when it was a grade II stake. Also in 2013, On Fire Baby took the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park.
Previous to the La Troienne, On Fire Baby finished fourth, 2 1/4 lengths behind winner Close Hatches, in the Azeri Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park, and then ran second to that same rival in the Apple Blossom April 11.
"We wanted to be in a stalking position," Johnson said. "Her last race was a good one. She was second to Close Hatches and we had given her a run for the money that day. She showed today that she is among the best. She is so gutsy."
"I thought (Devil's Cave) would be on the lead and we would be stalking her," Hartlage said. "Joe had to get into her to keep up. Joe did a super job riding her. He asked her and she went on. I've always thought she was one of the top horses in the country and hopefully she showed that today."
"I thought I had it, man," Lanerie said of his trip aboard Molly Morgan. "I figured there'd be a quick pace in there and my mare settled nice. I had a good trip, got out about the five-sixteenth pole and set her down and I was hoping she'd come back. She started to but that's a nice filly that beat us. Hats off to them and my filly ran a big race."
Said Dale Romans, who trains Molly Morgan, "That was a good race for my filly. She's a good one. The winner is, too. My filly is on the upswing."
"She ran a good race and I'm not disappointed at all," rider Castellano said of his trip on Devil's Cave. "She hooked up with the winner all the way in the race. I give the winner a lot of credit. My filly did a great performance today and I'm very satisfied with the way she did it."