Oxbow Racing's Ermine held off Joint Effort in a stiff stretch battle to win the $330,300 Falls City Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares on the Thanksgiving Day program at Churchill Downs Thursday.
The Florida-bred Ermine notched her first graded stakes win for trainer Ronny Werner.
Ridden by Eddie Castro, Ermine saved ground while racing forwardly in the 1 1/8-mile main track test, angling four wide on the turn to challenge the narrow leader Joint Effort and Mark Guidry. Ermine got the lead approaching the furlong marker and held on under brisk urging as Joint Effort fought back along the inside. The 21-year-old Castro replaced Calvin Borel, who broke his right wrist in a fall during an earlier race.
"(Ermine) got passed in the stretch, but she didn't get passed by too much," said Castro. "She stayed on and fought back at the wire. She just out-finished the other filly."
The winning time was 1:49 4/5.
Guidry lodged a claim of foul against Castro for interference in the stretch, but stewards disallowed it.
"I had to take a shot (with the objection)," said Guidry. "She did come in, and my filly kind of followed her in a little bit. She intimidated her a little bit. But (Joint Effort) fought hard back and getting beat by as little as I did kind of put a little question in my mind. So, that's why I had to do it."
It was three lengths back to Argentine-bred Cursora in third with 2005 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Summerly finishing fourth in her final start as the 5-2 second choice. Sangrita, the 2-1 favorite in the field of eight, finished seventh after a sluggish start.
Ermine tracked the early leader Sea Siren through even fractions of :24 2/5 and :48 4/5. Joint Effort led after six furlongs in 1:13 1/5.
A 3-year-old filly by Exchange--Red Mischief (Thirty Six Red), Ermine ran second in the Kentucky Oaks May 5 and was coming off a seven-length allowance win Nov. 1. She won for the fourth time in eight starts in 2006 and improved to 4-3-0 in 10 lifetime starts. Thursday's winning purse, $198,644, increased her earnings to $441,082. Ermine now has two wins and two seconds in four starts at Churchill.
"She has a lot of fight," said Werner. "It was a great race, a great race. They fought hard, both of those horses."
Amy Bondon-Peltz bred the winner, who was a $45,000 Ocala sale in August 2004.
Sent off as the third choice of the public, Ermine paid $9.20, $4.60, and $4. Joint Effort, second in the Chilukki (gr. II) at Churchill in her last start Nov. 2, returned $5.20 and $4.60. Cursora, ridden for the first time by Julien Leparoux, was $9 to show.
Following Summerly was Sea Siren, Cryptoquip, Sangrita and Silmaril.