Juanita provides 16-1 upset in La Troienne

William S

William S. and Graydon Patterson's Juanita kept pace with 2-5 favorite Plum Pretty on the front end of Friday's Grade 2, $327,000 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs before putting that rival away and holding for the win as St. John's River came with a game late rally in the final strides. Sent off the 16-1 fifth pick, the Mineshaft filly ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:42 4/5 to pay $35.40, $13.20 and $5.

Plum Pretty tried to lead all the way to the wire, setting splits of :24 1/5, :48 1/5 and 1:11 3/5 while closely tracked by Juanita to her outside. St. John's River, meanwhile, was content to run in midpack. As the field hit the turn, jockey Ramon Dominguez gave Juanita her signal and the dark bay miss drew even with Plum Pretty entering the lane.

The duo ran in tandem until midstretch, when Juanita began drawing off. St. John's River, who was making her seasonal bow following a more than eight-month layoff, had begun her rally by this point and came charging on the outside, but just ran out of room late as Juanita scooted under the line two lengths in front.

"The favorite went to the lead and I was happy to sit right next to her," Dominguez described his ride on Juanita. "When we got to the half-mile pole I was feeling pretty good just by looking at Plum Pretty and seeing that she was already being encouraged a little bit. At that point I felt like I had more horse than her, just visually, looking at her and how mine felt."

While St. John's River lost the war, she did win the battle against Plum Pretty after missing to that rival by a neck in last year's Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. The pair were separated by a length in the La Troienne, with Absinthe Minded another five lengths behind in fourth. Completing the order under the wire were Afleeting Lady, Maristar and Love Theway Youare.

"I was very comfortable on the lead. I thought I was going to gallop after a half-mile because we were going so slow and I was really comfortable," said Rafael Bejarano, who was aboard Plum Pretty. "For some reason, when we felt the other horse come running next to me, I let her go. She showed me a good kick and it looked like she was going to keep running, but she showed me the same thing the last time when she ran (fifth) here in the Breeders' Cup (Ladies' Classic). I was real easy on the lead and she stopped right away in the stretch.

"There was no excuse. She had a good trip. There was no pressure, but she just quit in the stretch."

Juanita was last seen running second to the now-retired reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. The La Troienne was her fourth start this season, as she opened the year with a second in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap and a third in the Tiffany Lass Stakes, also at Fair Grounds.

Bred in Kentucky by Padua Stables, Juanita raced for that operation until being claimed by her current connections in March 2011 at Gulfstream Park.

"I have to give all the credit for claiming her to the owner, Mr. Patterson. He picked her out. It was all him. It sure has worked out well," trainer Mike Maker said. "Her style is to be forwardly placed and she's been doing great. She ran just behind Havre de Grace last time so we gave it a shot. We were going to run in Chicago, but when they retired (expected La Troienne runner) Havre de Grace, it made the decision easy."

The four-year-old miss scored her second stakes win in this spot after capturing the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks last fall. She has now accumulated $485,328 in lifetime earnings to go along with her 16-6-3-3 career mark.

Juanita is out of the stakes-winning Smart Strike mare Wishful Splendor, making her a half-sister to the stakes-placed Sirocco Strike. Wishful Splendor is herself a daughter of the multiple stakes-scoring Salem mare Kaylem Ho and counts as half-siblings Grade 1 victress Private Persuasion; stakes diva Sound Wisdom, the granddam of Grade 3 winner Denis of Cork, who ran third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes in 2008; and dual stakes-placed Torchera, the dam of 2008 Belmont Stakes hero Da' Tara.