Lady Joanne, with John McKee in the irons, challenged heavily favored Change Up on the backstretch and dueled with that rival into deep stretch before she pulled away to score a 1 ¼-length victory in the 63rd-running of the $224,600, grade II Golden Rod for 2-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
The bay daughter of Orientate covered the 1 1/16 mile distance in 1:44.12 and paid $8, $3, and $2.60. Change Up, ridden by John Velazquez, held on for second after contesting the early pace and paid $2.40 and $2.20. High Heels, who finished two lengths behind the top pair in third and more than 12 lengths ahead of the rest of the field of nine, paid $4.
Owned and bred in Kentucky by Bentley Smith and trained by Carl Nafzger, Lady Joanne turned the tables on Change Up after having finished 2 ¼ lengths behind that rival in third in the $100,000, grade III Pocahontas at Churchill Downs Oct. 29. She earned $133,684 for the win to increase her lifetime earnings to $178,101. She improved her career record to 2-0-2 from four starts.
"She was ready to go today," said McKee. "There was no pace in this race, and she just kind of drug me around there. Turning for home, she gave me that extra push that I needed."
Change Up broke alertly to grab the earlier lead over Cohiba Miss and carved out modest fractions of 24.57 for the first quarter-mile and 48.29 for the half-mile. Lady Joanne was just off that pair on the run down the backstretch and moved to challenge the leaders and engaged the front running Change Up heading into the turn. That duo quickly drew away from the field and launched their two-horse battle to the finish. Lady Joanne grabbed a narrow lead on the turn, but Change Up fought back along the inside to stick her head in front. Lady Joanne took the lead for good inside the final sixteenth of a mile and slowly pulled away to the final margin.
"The winner was right next to me on the backside, and I think my horse is probably better on the outside where she can relax," said Velazquez. "As soon as the other horse got head-and-head with her at the half-mile pole, she kind of changed her rhythm and she got a little nervous. But she hung in there and she ran great."
Nafzger collected his second major stakes win for two-year-olds in the meet. He also saddled James Tafel's Street Cry to win in the $2 million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) Nov. 4. It was Nafzger's third victory in the Golden Rod, having earlier captured the race in 2001 with Belterra and in 2002 with My Boston Gal. Only D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Golden Rod four times, has more career victories in the race. Nafzger collected his 15th stakes victory under the Twin Spires.
Winning jockey John McKee collected his second victory in the Golden Rod, having taken the 2003 edition of the race aboard the Lukas trained Be Gentle. Today's victory was his fifth Churchill Downs stakes win.
Cohiba Miss finished a distant fourth. She was followed past the finish line by Wellofaprize, Pro Pink, Lady Corredor, Time's Mistress, and Littlebitabling. The field was reduced to nine with the scratch of Stellas New Groove.