Adoration, ridden with confidence by Victor Espinoza, shook off Roar Emotion in the stretch and held on for an impressive 1 1/4-length victory in the $439,200 Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old Honor Grades mare Adoration, last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner who also won the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) March 14, was making her first start on an off-track for trainer David Hofmans and owner Amerman Racing Stables. The third choice in a field reduced to six because of three scratches, Adoration was clocked in 1:52 on sloppy going.
After breaking from the rail in third, Adoration settled in behind Roar Emotion with Angela's Love on her outside as they tracked early fractions of :23 1/5 and :47 3/5. Coming out of the final turn, Adoration ranged up between Roar Emotion and Angela's Love, easing away down the lane to a daylight advantage. Bare Necessities, ridden by Rene Douglas, rallied between horses in the stretch and was cutting into Adoration's lead before running out of ground. La Reason, at odds of 50-1, came on for third, 3 3/4 lengths farther back.
"The race went great for me," Espinoza said. "When all the speed scratched, I really thought we'd be on the lead, but you never know with a race like this. When I took a hold of her, she began to settle. I don't think she was 100 percent comfortable in the stretch, but her class showed today. She's a really nice filly. I had worked her before the race and knew she was going to run big. I was surprised when she wasn't the favorite."
Bare Necessities made her first start for trainer Frank Kirby.
Yell, the 2-1 choice with Pat Day up, never threatened and finished fifth in the six-horse field.
Adoration's seventh win in 19 lifetime starts, worth $272,304, increased her bankroll to $1,961,160.
Hofmans, who said Adoration would be pointed toward another Breeders' Cup Distaff start, notched his first stakes win at Churchill Downs in seven tries.
"Victor did a great job," Hofmans said. "He took her back, got her off the fence and got her to the outside (Roar Emotion) where she wanted to be. We're very, very happy."
Lucy Bassett bred Adoration, who is from the Key to the Mint mare Sewing Lady, in Kentucky.
"We didn't know if she'd handle the off track and now she did," Hofmans said. "She's bred for it and Mrs. Bassett told me that she thought she would."
She paid $7, $3.60 and $3. Bare Necessities, who has split six decisions with Adoration, returned $3.40 and $2.80. La Reason was $4.60 to show.
Douglas said Bare Necessities would fight again another day.
"She's (Adoration) a nice filly and to beat her you have to save ground and that's what I did. I had no excuses. The winner hung tough, but don't take anything away from my filly. We'll come back and we'll meet somewhere down the road. I'm not scared of
the other filly. They've beat each other."
Angela's Love, Yell and Roar Emotion completed the order of finish.