Pleasant Hill Pins Gardenia in Stakes Debut

Pleasant Hill may have been 20-1 on the morning line for the $150,000 Gardenia Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) at muggy Ellis Park Aug. 18, but the bettors weren't having it. The 4-year-old daughter of Pleasant Tap led all the way in her stakes debut at odds of 7-2 to win by one length over High Heels.

Ridden by Larry Melancon and carrying 113 pounds, Pleasant Hill shook off the challenge of Brownie Points in upper stretch, drew clear by a couple of lengths, and held the late-charging High Heels safe in the final sixteenth of a mile. She completed the one-mile event for fillies and mares -- the only graded stakes race at the Ellis Park summer meeting -- in a slow 1:38 4/5.

Greg Foley trains the dark bay for Donamire Farm, who bred her in Kentucky. She had been heavily bet in a pair of Churchill Downs allowance starts this spring, including a 5 1/2-length win at 6 1/2 furlongs June 10. In her only prior two-turn effort 20 days later, she finished a stalking second at 1 1/16 miles.

Melancon took Pleasant Hill straight to the lead Saturday, clicking off an opening quarter mile in :23 2/5 and a half in :46 3/5 while building a two-length lead over Fiery Pursuit. She got a chance to get a breather on the far turn as Fiery Pursuit gave up the chase, but Leah's Secret and Brownie Points closed in on the leader after six furlongs in 1:12. Brownie Points, three wide coming off the turn for jockey Luis Quinonez, drew even with Pleasant Hill in upper stretch as Leah's Secret lost ground, but the pacesetter re-broke at that point and Brownie Points came up empty.

A big effort was turned in by this spring's 3-year-old Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) winner High Heels, who went off as the slight 3-1 choice over Brownie Points in her first start against older rivals. After trailing the 11-horse field for the first half-mile following a sluggish start from her extreme outside post, High Heels and Joe Johnson powered home gamely along the inside in the final quarter mile to make it interesting late.

Brownie Points, who carried co-high weight of 118 pounds, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up in third.

Pleasant Hill, out of the Crafty Prospector mare Northern Destiny, has not been worse than second in six lifetime starts. Her third victory was worth $90,000 and more than doubled her earnings to $174,650.

Sent off as the third choice, she paid $9.60, $5.40 and $4.20. High Heels bounced back from a couple of poor efforts following her Fantasy win to return $4.40 and $3.40. Brownie Points, vanned into Ellis Park from Arlington Park for trainer Donnie Von Hemel, was $3.20 to show.

It was nearly three lengths back to Superb Ravi in fourth. She was followed by Leah's Secret, Eyes On Eddy, Mia's Reflection, Stop a Train, Molly's Pride, Maggie Slew and Fiery Pursuit. My Chickadee, who broke away in the post parade, had to be a late scratch.

(Chart, Equibase)

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