Favored Bizzy Caroline, making her second start of the year, dug in late to edge outsider Heavenly Landing by a neck in the $111,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs June 2 (VIDEO).
It was the first victory for the 9-5 favorite since she captured the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) over the same grass course nearly one year ago. The 4-year-old Afleet Alex filly ended a five-race losing streak for owner/breeder Catesby Clay and trainer Ken McPeek.
Manoel Cruz, who won last year's Early Times Mint Julep aboard My Baby Baby, guided Bizzy Caroline to victory with a hedge-hugging ride over the firm Churchill Downs turf. Bizzy Caroline completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in a slow 1:43.29.
Bizzy Caroline, out of the Saint Ballado mare Sacre Coeur, showed signs last year of being a top-notch turf filly, potential she may be ready to fulfill this season. The dark bay was a close fifth as the favorite in the American Oaks (gr. IT) and had a pair of runner-up efforts in the Pin Oak Valley View (gr. IIIT) and Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) in addition to her Regret victory.
The Mint Julep's morning line favorite Tapitsfly was scratched and so was Joharmony, reducing the field to seven older fillies and mares.
Heavenly Landing, sent off at odds of 9-1 with Corey Lanerie aboard, outfought Hard Seven and Ravi's Song for the early lead. She showed the way through pedestrian splits of :24.32, :48.95, and 1:13.24 while maintaining about a one-length lead over Hard Seven. Bizzy Caroline raced along the inside in fifth for a half-mile before advancing into third on the far turn.
Shaking off Hard Seven in the stretch, Heavenly Landing increased her advantage to 2 1/2 lengths at the furlong mark, but she culd not contain the relentless Bizzy Caroline, who angled out a bit for the drive and got up in time under urging from Cruz.
Heavenly Landing was 2 3/4 lengths clear of Hard Seven, who finished third with Leandro Goncalves riding. Ravi's Song stuck around for fourth after a wide finish, followed by Artemus Kitten, Snow Top Mountain, and Warm Hugs.
Bizzy Caroline earned $67,444 as she improved to 4-2-2 in 12 starts while banking $294,844. She was coming off a third-place effort in an allowance/optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles over Polytrack at Keeneland April 26 to start the year.
Carrying 118 pounds, Bizzy Caroline paid $5.60, $3.60, and $3. Heavenly Landing returned $7.20 and $4.80, completing a $39.20 exacta. Hard Seven paid $4.