Ken and Sarah Ramsey's 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro was 122-pound highweight in the 1 1/2-mile turf affair in a field of nine older runners. He completed the distance in 2:27.29 under jockey Rosie Napravnik, just missing Simmard's 2012 stakes record of 2:27.16.
"The horse gives you 110 percent every time," trainer Mike Maker said. "He's all heart and class."
Atigun was the slight 2-1 favorite over Dark Cove, also 2-1 in the wagering.
Napravnik kept Dark Cove in a good stalking spot fourth or fifth through the opening mile as 26-1 shot Al Qasr pulled his way up to the front and posted early fractions of :24.24, :49.09, and 1:14.03 followed by Mack's Blackhawk and Heathcote.
Rolling along wide but in comfortable cruising rhythm, Dark Cove improved his position through a mile in 1:38.87 and followed along on the heels of Heathcote to make a bold move heading for home. He struck the lead three wide off the final turn while running 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.45, and continued under strong urging to resist Atigun by half a length. Najjaar was third by a nose.
"I was in a dream spot," Napravnik said. "I couldn't have picked a better spot. I was happy with where I was the whole way...I knew they were coming, but (Dark Cove) was the class of the race."
The winner returned $6.40, $3.80, and $3.20 while Atigun, who had to check briefly around the turn after three-quarters of a mile, brought $3.60 and $2.80. Najjaar paid $4.60. Prime Cut, another 6 1/2 lengths back in fourth, was followed by Ioya Bigtime, Heathcote, Al Qasar. Harrods Creek, and Mack's Blackhawk.
Claimed by Maker and the Ramseys last April for $50,000 at Keeneland, Dark Cove went to the sidelines and did not reappear until January 2013, when he ran fourth in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. He registered a victory in a Feb. 2 claiming event there, then was second in similar company March 7 before upsetting the April 26 Elkhorn back at Keeneland at odds of nearly 9-1.
The victory was the 14th of Churchill's racing season for the Ramseys, who are on pace for a record-setting number of wins at the Louisville oval's spring meet. They took 21 races during the 57-day season of 2009 and have 14 wins through 17 days of this year's 38-day session. This was their third stakes score of the meet; they also won the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) with Stephanie's Kitten and the Edgewood Stakes with Kitten's Dumplings.
Meanwhile, Maker, who notched his second stakes win of the meet, tops the trainer standings with 16 wins, three more than Steve Asmussen. He also trains Kitten's Dumplings for the Ramseys.
Napravnik, in her first full season at Churchill Downs, collected her third stakes win and 18th victory overall at the meet. She ranks third in the standings behind Shaun Bridgmohan (25 wins) and Corey Lanerie (22) and also took the Alysheba (gr. II) on Take Charge Indy and Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) aboard Delaunay.
The Louisville Handicap improved Dark Cove's record to 8-2-1 from 23 starts with earnings of $399,054. A $155,000 yearling purchase when obtained by Robert LaPenta's Whitehorse Stables from the Eaton Sales consignment at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, Dark Cove raced three times in lackluster fashion sprinting on dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito before he was claimed by Magdalena Racing and trainer Ken McPeek—who, coincidentally, is the trainer of Atigun.
Dark Cove broke his maiden in his fourth start and first turf outing at Saratoga Race Course in 2010 and won in allowance company, but could never make the rise to graded success, finishing off the board in turf stakes in 2010 and 2011. Dark Cove is two-for-two at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
The big bay was bred in Kentucky by Stonewall Farm Stallions out of the Kris S. mare Crystal Cove, and was pinhooked as a weanling for $120,000 by Chesapeake Partners from the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale when consigned by Warrendale Sales, agent.