Ginger Punch delivered a technical knockout in the race named after Muhammad Ali’s hometown early Friday afternoon, easily winning the $268,200 Louisville Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) under the Twin Spires. A flash of lightning and clap of thunder added emphasis a few moments after the 1-2 shot passed the wire.
Last year’s Eclipse Award-winning older mare sat right off the pace set by Unforgotten in the 1 1/16-mile race down the backstretch, moved to the lead on the turn under Rafael Bejarano, then cruised home by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:43.08 on a fast track. Leah’s Secret was second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Lear’s Princess. Unforgotten was fourth and was followed by Kettleoneup.
A homebred for Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs operation, Ginger Punch is a 5-year-old mare by Awesome Again , out of the Bold Revenue mare Nappelon. She has now won nine of 17 lifetime starts. The victory, worth $148,924, increased Ginger Punch's career earnings to $2,375,603.
Trained by Bobby Frankel, Ginger Punch bounced back from a third-place finish in Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), eight lengths behind the victorious Zenyatta, on April 5. It was the second win in the Louisville for Frankel and Bejarano. Frankel won the race in 2003 with You, and Bejarano scored in 2006 with Oonagh Maccool.
“She ran her race," Frankel said. "Everything worked out well. I don't know what’s next; we’ll just have to look.”
A pair of scratches—Silver Knockers and Bayou’s Lassie—left the Louisville a five horse field. Unforgotten set very tepid early fractions of :25.25 and :50.23 before being challenged by Ginger Punch after six furlongs in 1:14.06. Lear’s Princess, a grade I-winning filly last year, tracked those two from the inside early, while Leah’s Secret was sitting off the pace on the outside. As Ginger Punch reached the lead on the final turn, both Leah’s Secret and Lear’s Princess came with wide moves to no avail. Ginger Punch jumped tracks inside the eighth pole.
“The first jump out of the gate, she was a little slow," Bejarano said. "We were supposed to have the lead. She likes to run on the lead. But it was OK and at the five-eighths I started to let her go and then just waited for her big run.
"Down the stretch, she saw water on the track and jumped, I imagine to protect herself. She was just reacting to the moment. She was OK.”
Ginger Punch, who won the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) and the Ruffian and Go for Wand (both gr. I) Handicaps last year, paid $3, $2.60, and $2.10. Leah’s Secret, ridden by Garrett Gomez, returned $5.60 and $3.40, and Lear’s Princess, Eibar Coa aboard, paid $2.80 to show. The 7-6 exacta paid $17.80.
Light rain began falling about 10 minutes before post time at Churchill Downs. With 10 minutes to post for the next race, the Edgewood Stakes, heavier rain began to fall and the posttime for that race was delayed a few minutes to allow for the storm to blow through.