Overcoming a slow break, Ipi Tombe showed her South African championship form in her American debut to register a no-sweat half-length victory in Saturday's $164,400 Locust Grove Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. It was her eighth consecutive triumph.
Ridden by Pat Day, the Zimbabwe-bred 5-year-old mare by Manshood got to the lead in the final furlong and won under ahand ride in a time of 1:47 3/5 for the 1 1/8-mile test on a firm turf. Pacesetting Kiss The Devil, ridden by Lonnie Meche, was second with fast-closing Quick Tip and Robby Albarado anther half-length back in third.
Team Valor, WinStar Farm and Sunmark Partners' Ipi Tombe, now trained by Elliott Walden, broke last but soon moved up to a loose third as Kiss the Devil, pushed by Voodoo Lady, established the lead soon after breaking through fractions of :24 1/5, :47 4/5 and 1:11 2/5.
Kiss the Devil put away Voodoo Lady in the stretch as Ipi Tombe moved off the rail to contend for the lead after a mile in 1:35 1/5. She gained control of matters close to home and won in workmanlike fashion.
Ipi Tombe became the first Zimbabwe bred to race and win at Churchill Downs.
"I was really looking forward to today to ride her," said Day. "The only anxious moment was when she first jumped away from the gate behind the field, and then got a little bit rank on me. I was concerned that she would put too much into it, and run up there and chase the leaders and waste herself.
"I got to the leader at the eighth pole with minimal encouragement and went right past them. Knowing the gears that this filly has, I looked around and nobody else was coming. I dropped my hands on her and she kind of backed up to them coming to the wire. There was nobody else coming so there was no need to continue to ask her to kick on. She had done what was necessary to get the job done. There are plenty of dances to dance. We want to conserve some energy for later on."
Knowing she doesn't break as quickly as horses in the U.S., Walden said he wasn't overly concerned at the start.
"It's better than her being in front," he said. "I would have much rather had her last by six than in front by two. That would have worried me. I felt like he (Day) could get her covered up and he kind of angled her out to pass a couple of horses, knowing she would be a little keen, and then he got her in behind Voodoo Lady and Kiss The Devil and he said she turned off real good for him when they straightened up down the backside."
Walden said the plan is to go to Saratoga for the Diana Handicap (gr. IT) on July 26.
"I hope so," he said. "Yeah, if she comes out well it's four weeks and, looking at her form, if you go back to even South Africa, she kind of likes to run three races in a row. She did it in South Africa and culminated with the July Cup over there and so that's kind of the plan."
Making her first start since winning the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) over males in Dubai on March 29, improved her career record to 12 wins in 14 starts. Her winning streak dates back to April 2002. Ipi Tombe pocketed $101,928 to increase her lifetime earnings to $1,529,820.
Sent off at 2-5, Ipi Tombe paid $2.80 and $2.10. Kiss The Devil returned $2.10. There was no show wagering. The $2 exacta was worth $9.40.