Danzon, claimed for $80,000 in her last prior start, prevailed in a wild photo finish that saw six horses finish within about two lengths of each other in the $116,200 Locust Grove Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) July 3 at Churchill Downs.
Racing under Alex Solis and coming from well off the pace, Danzon was widest of all the contenders when they sprinted for the wire in deep stretch. The 7-year-old daughter of Royal Academy barely put away Keertana and C. S. Silk to her inside, but her biggest threat was 48-1 Happiness Is, who had contested the lead the entire way in the one-mile turf race and was game to the finish.
The photo showed that Danzon hit the wire in front by a nose, good enough to earn her first graded stakes victory since September 2007 when she won the Kentucky Cup Distaff (gr. III) on the Turfway Park Polytrack. The dark bay mare won the Locust Grove in her first start for trainer James Baker, who claimed her for owner Alfred Nuckols Jr. June 4 just prior to scoring by 3 1/2 lengths in an allowance/optional claimer at Churchill.
Happiness Is, who pressed pacesetter War Tigress through splits of :24.84, :48.72, and 1:12.94, was a tough luck runner-up under Greta Kuntzweiler. She was a neck ahead of C. S. Silk, who took third by a nose over Acoma. The last-named runner finished along the inside and was only a nose better than Keetana, who was in fifth place. The final time on the firm turf course was 1:37.02.
"I saved some ground and then made my move on the outside," Solis said. "At the quarter pole I finally got her out and she flew home. She got squeezed out of the gate but she’s a come-from-behind horse. She was really happy in the post parade and she ran a big race. At the wire I wasn’t sure if I got there because there were three horses inside of me. But thank God we did.”
Danzon, bred in Kentucky by Woodcote Stud and out of the Kingmambo mare Zappeuse, won for the 10th time in 29 starts and has now earned $552,544. A group III winner in France as a 3-year-old, she was previously trained by Kellyn Gorder and owned by Joseph Allen. She has won four of seven races in 2010.
"She is a nice horse," Baker said. "She’s a classy filly. She has a lot of heart. It was the owner’s decision to claim the horse. I asked, ‘Who?’ and he said it was her, and I said ‘Let’s go for it.’
"We’re going to Saratoga with her. There are a lot of options for her up there. I thought we got beat at the wire, but when the numbers came up I was excited.”
The winner paid $14.80, $8.60, and $5.60. The exacta (6-9) was a generous $617.80 and the trifecta (6-9-11) returned $7,105.