Keertana bided her time behind the pacesetting Belle Watling and then outfought the late-charging Zapparition to win the $100,000 The Very One Stakes (gr. IIIT) by a half-length on the Gulfstream Park turf course Feb. 20 (VIDEO).
Barbara Hunter's hard-trying 5-year-old homebred daughter of Johar spoiled the North American debut of the Chilean star Belle Watling as well as the repeat hopes in The Very One of Changing Skies, the 6-5 favorite in the field of five older fillies and mares. The race, at 1 3/8 miles on firm ground, was completed in a slow 2:19.33.
Jose Lezcano, aboard Keertana, was content to settle into second on the outside of Belle Watling, who slowed the pace to a crawl for Edgar Prado. Belle Watling, a multiple grade I winner of 13 of 16 starts in her native country, hit the half-mile mark in :53.02, six furlongs in 1:20.09 and the mile in 1:45.08. Keertana, on her outside, and Changing Skies, saving ground at the rail, stayed within close striking distance.
As the stretch run unfolded, Keertana made her move to get the lead near the eighth pole, but Changing Skies ran out of room at the rail when Belle Watling backed up quickly. Zapparition, the longest shot in the compact field at 24-1, charged on the outside for Julien Leparoux to reach even terms with the new leader in deep stretch. But Keertana was up to the task and inched away in the final strides.
“I was a little worried that we were going so slow," Lezcano said. "I didn’t really know how good the horse on the lead was. I thought other than her the one horse (Changing Skies) was the horse I had to beat and I was able to keep her on the inside the whole way. The main thing was I didn’t want to move too early. (Zapparition) came up to me around the turn and my horse was very game in the stretch.”
Zapparition was a clear second by 1 3/4 lengths over Musical Rain, who rallied into contention under Javier Castellano but ran out of steam late. Belle Watling, the 8-5 second choice, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth. She finished a neck in front of Changing Skies, who checked hard when attempting to get through on the inside of Belle Watling and drifted out sharply after that.
Stewards looked at the replay of that incident but made no change in the order of finish.
Trainer Patrick Biancone said he wasn't disappointed with Belle Watling's first U.S. try.
“She’s still coming back," he said, noting she hadn't run since October 21. "It’s a long process. We didn’t bring her here to win a grade 3 so we’ll get her back, make sure she came back okay, and see what’s in the future.”
Trained by Tom Proctor, Keertana is unbeaten in two starts in 2011 since posting a sharp third in last November's Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). She started the season with an allowance win on the the Tampa Bay Downs turf going 1 1/16 miles Jan. 23.
“After the first half-mile when they went by me I thought ‘what is this?’ (half-mile in 53 seconds). "It was like a mile race after they warmed up for the first half," Proctor said. "Fortunately, our mare can run well at a mile.
"I don’t think this race took a whole lot out of her," he added. "I might even run her back in a race (at Tampa) and then maybe come back here for the Orchid (Mar. 20). When it starts to get hot, we’ll probably give her a little break.”
Overall, the dark bay or brown mare boasts a 9-5-5 mark in 23 races with earnings of $809,371.
Bred in Kentucky by Hunter, Keertana is out of the Storm Cat mare Motokiks.
Sent off as the third choice, Keertana carried 121 pounds and paid $7.20, $3.60 and $2.60. Zapparition, looking for her first stakes win for trainer Dale Romans, returned $11.20 and $4.40 and completed a $96.60 exacta. Irish-bred Musical Rain, also trained by Romans, was $4.20 to show.