In a thrilling photo finish in which three horses were separated by the narrowest of margins, it was the 5-year-old mare Keertana who prevailed over her male rivals in the $111,200 Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) May 28 at Churchill Downs.
Pinned along the inside, Keertana dueled the length of the stretch with Guys Reward, and they were joined at the wire by Bearpath, who rallied from the outside. All three hit the wire at the same time but it was Keertana that came away with the victory by a nose. Barbara Hunter’s homebred daughter of Johar earned her third graded stakes win of the season already, and her 11th victory from 26 starts overall. She became the first female to win the Louisville Handicap, which is in his 74th year.
Jose Lezcano rode Keertana to victory, as they covered 1 1/2 miles on a firm turf course in 2:33.61. Bearpath and Freddie Lenclud were second, a nose better than hard-luck Guys Reward. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to El Crespo in fourth.
Keertana has won four of five starts this season, her only hiccup coming in March when a close third in the Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs. Her wins have come in a Tampa Bay allowance, The Very One (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream, the Grey Goose Bewitch (gr. IIIT) last out at Keeneland, and now the Louisville Handicap, where she defeated six males as the 3-2 favorite. She is trained by Tom Proctor.
Keertana raced in fourth through the early stages while Guys Reward set a crawling the pace under Miguel Mena. The opening splits were :25.68, :51.93, 1:19.27, and 1:45.82 for a mile. El Crespo and Free Fighter pressed the pace, but it was Keertana who came along the hedge to challenge Guys Reward at the quarter-pole. Those two battled through the stretch with Guys Reward holding a narrow advantage most of the way.
Bearpath, last early on until making his bid on the final turn, came up to join the fray in deep stretch but just missed to the game mare.
“It was a great race,” Lezcano said. “I wanted to take her to the outside because I thought that would be best for her. The grass was softer on the hedge and I wanted her to go outside, but I really didn’t have a choice and had to go up the inside. When we hit the wire, I didn’t know if she won, or finished second, or finished third. I didn’t know we won until they put it up on the screen. I’m very happy. She’s a nice mare.”
Keertana, a Kentucky bred out of the Storm Cat mare Motokiks, notched the six stakes win of her career. She improved to 11-5-6 and upped her earnings to $981,938. She won for the fourth time in nine starts on the Churchill turf course.
“I’m just tickled for her,” Proctor said. “She’s a neat mare and I’m just happy to ride on her coattails. Once horses like her leave the barn, you can’t replace them. That’s already her third graded-stakes win of the year. That’s a hell of a year. The Breeders’ Cup (Filly & Mare Turf) is the long-term goal. But that’s still awhile away from now.”
The winner paid $5, $3, and $2.80. The exacta (4-9) returned $27 and the trifecta (4-9-3) was worth $104.40.