On paper, it seems as though multiple graded stakes winner Acoma is moving in the wrong direction. The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker has been way off her game in her last two starts, finishing sixth and ninth, respectively, in the July 19 Delaware Handicap (gr. II) and Oct. 10 First Lady (gr. IT) at Keeneland.
But trainer David Carroll is optimistic that Acoma will return to form in the $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) Nov. 21 at Churchill Downs. The bay filly leads a solid field of nine in the 1 1/8-mile turf race and will carry top weight of 121 pounds.
Carroll drew a line through Acoma’s weak Delaware Handicap showing since her blood work came back poor after the race. After a freshening, Carroll was hopeful his star would run well in the First Lady, but she was never a factor, finishing more than 13 lengths in back of the winner, Diamondrella.
“I’m hoping it was the soft turf that she didn’t like; that’s really the only excuse I can give her because she was training very well going into the race,” Carroll said. “She a horse that likes the turf anywhere from good to firm, so I’m hoping the ground stays that way for her. We had some rain last night and the races were taken off the turf (Nov. 18), but hopefully it stays nice and it's sunny the rest of the week.”
Acoma, a five-time graded stakes winner, has won both of her starts on the Churchill grass. She scored a year ago in the Mrs. Revere (gr. IIT) and three starts ago defeated Pure Clan by a neck in the Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) in June. Overall, she is a perfect four-for-four in Louisville, also recording a pair of wins over the main track. Carroll hopes a return to her home track will get Acoma back on course.
“I guess you could say I’m hopeful more than confident,” Carroll said. "I know she has it in her, she just has to go out and do it.”
Carroll said the plan as of now is for Acoma to come back for a 5-year-old campaign, but if she should throw in another poor effort in the Cardinal, the connections “may have the think about it some more.” Acoma, who is out of the Danzig mare Aurora, is a homebred of Helen Alexander and Helen Groves.
Acoma’s regular rider, Julien Leparoux, will be riding at Hollywood Park Nov. 21, so Carroll has given the mount to Jesus Castenon.
There are several interesting contenders to challenge Acoma, including Hickory Tree Stable's Leamington, who set the pace but tired to finish fifth in the Oct. 3 Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in her graded stakes debut. Leamington, who began her career in England, went wire-to-wire in the Voodoo Dancer Stakes in September at Saratoga for trainer Graham Motion.
Coming off a lengthy layoff is Augustin Stable’s homebred Long Approach, who was runner-up by a head to Indescribable in last year’s Cardinal. A daughter of Broad Brush, Long Approach last raced in April when she finished second in the 12-furlong La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder.
Another horse to watch for is Ron Beegle’s Lemon Chiffon, a 6-year-old mare who has been running competitively against the top female turfers in California this year. Last out, the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid was fourth in the grade I Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Oct. 10, beaten just two lengths by Magical Fantasy. Earlier in the season, she was third in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) in her lone trip to Kentucky.
Trainer Sean McCarthy chose the Cardinal over the Nov. 28 Matriarch (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park for his charge.
“I’d like to get her a graded stakes win and in the Matriarch she would have to face the grade I and grade II horses she has been fighting all summer and fall,” McCarthy said. “Not that this is going to be that much easier, because any time you put a grade in front of a race, you know it is going to be tough. She ran well here in the spring. Plus the distance is good for her.”
$100,000 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 4:37 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. You Go West Girl (NY), J Lezcano, 117, T F Proctor
2. Tizfiz (KY), E T Baird, 119, J Good
3. Acoma (KY), J L Castanon, 121, D M Carroll
4. Zaskar (GB), S Bridgmohan, 115, J P Terranova II
5. Long Approach (PA), K J Desormeaux ,116, J E Sheppard
6. Social Queen (KY), M Mena, 118, A E Goldberg
7. My Baby Baby (KY), R Albarado, 116, K G McPeek
8. Leamington (KY), C H Borel, 119, H G Motion
9. Lemon Chiffon (KY), J K Court, 119, S McCarthy