Phola comes home strong in the Churchill Downs Turf Mile. <br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Phola comes home strong in the Churchill Downs Turf Mile.
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Rick Samuels

Phola Last to First in CD Distaff Turf Mile

Todd Pletcher-trained filly runs past Hot Cha Cha in deep stretch.

Phola, making her first start since winning the Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) at Tampa Bay Downs seven weeks ago, rallied from last place to win the $223,200 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) on Derby day May 1.

The 4-year-old filly by Johannesburg won by 1 1/4 lengths and covered the mile over a yielding course in 1:38.35.

Phola, trained by Todd Pletcher, was ridden by Ramon Dominguez, and came down the middle of the course through the stretch to wear down Hot Cha Cha, who had opened up a two-length lead for James Graham at the eighth pole. Irish-bred Miss Keller, ridden by Javier Castellano, finished third.

Dominguez and Pletcher picked up their first wins in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.

"The filly definitely loves soft going," Dominguez said. "Todd asked me to ride her pretty much like we did last time. She’s so easy on herself. The ground is so soft, you don’t really know what you have until you send her. When you ask her she’s got a three-sixteenths, quarter of a mile (kick).”

Phola is owned in partnership by George Saufley, Graydon Patterson, William Patterson, Happy Broadbent, Barry Stilz, Bill Robbins, and J.J. Pletcher.

"My father bought her originally for himself for $50,000 after she was third in the Arlington-Washington Lassie," Todd Pletcher said. "Wayne Patterson contacted him and they bought a majority interest. But he stayed in for a piece.”

The winner, who seized the lead with a sixteenth of a mile to run, returned $15.40, $6.80, and $4.60. Hot Cha Cha paid $5.20 and $4 and Miss Keller paid $6.20.

Second choice Fantasia was fourth, followed by the 2-1 favorite Tizaqueena, who was seeking a repeat in the Distaff Turf Mile but faded to finish more than six lengths behind the winner. Pacesetters Cure for Sale and Diamondrella, who clicked off fractions of :24.93, :49.67 and 1:14.28, completed the order.

Phola, out of the Petionville mare Humbling, was winning for the fifth time in 11 starts and is now three for three this year. In her seasonal debut she won a one-mile allowance race on the turf Feb. 7 at Gulfstream Park, followed by her 4 1/4-length triumph over "good" going in the Hillsborough March 13. She added $135,618 to her bankroll, which now stands at $330,163.

“We handled soft ground at Tampa last time out, so we were optimistic that she’d handle it today, though this is softer than she ran on before," Pletcher noted. "She’s just a filly who’s finding herself and getting good. She’s getting better and better with every race. We’ll probably run her in the Just A Game (gr. IT) at Belmont on Belmont Day."

Bred by Andover Way and N & P Horse Racing Venture, Phola sold for $50,000 during the fourth session of the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale as part of the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment. She was purchased by Gus Bell, agent. She went through the ring at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March 2-year-old sale consigned by Nick deMeric, agent, but was bought back for $47,000.