In her second start off the layup, the 5-year-old Bernardini mare pressed the pace set by 8-5 second choice Best Behavior, and was aided by the slow start of 6-5 favorite Sandiva as that rival made her first try at the main track after racing on grass. Although Sandiva raced up quickly after trailing the field at the start, she was already under a drive turning for home from third, while jockey Luis Saez had plenty of horse in Penwith down the lane.
Penwith kept close tabs on the leader from the start of the 1 1/16-mile race, and followed Best Behavior's opening fractions of :23.77 and :47.31 on her outside flank, just a neck back heading toward the final turn. Through three-quarters in 1:11.30, Saez gave a measured hand ride and allowed his mount to creep up to the lead.
"It worked out well," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He rode a great race and had her right there pretty comfortable. She looked like she was going easy. I told him not to hit her if he didn't have to, because she doesn't really like the whip. It was great that he didn't havwe to because she was cruising along."
Sent off the 3-1 third choice in a field of five, Penwith paid $8.80, $3.80, and $2.20. Sandiva brought $2.80 and $2.10. Best Behavior was worth $2.20. Gamblers Road and Enchantress completed the order of finish. Call Pat was scratched to run in the Feb. 14 Bayakoa (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.
Of Sandiva's first try on the main track, trainer Todd Pletcher said, "I thought she handled the dirt really well. She kind of tossed her head right at the start and had to make up a little bit of ground into the first turn, but after that I thought she ran really well. She was just second-best to Kiaran's filly today."
Penwith was always highly regarded by her connections but took a while to find graded success. She finished third in the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) in 2013, ran fourth in the Davona Dale (gr. II) and sixth in the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) in early 2014, and later that year came in third in the Indiana Oaks (gr. II) and fourth in the Comely Stakes (gr. III). In 2015 she had only two starts, a runner-up finish in the Affectionately Stakes in January and a sixth in the Ladies Handicap in February, after which she went to the sidelines.
"Good spot, and she ran huge," McLaughlin said. "She's come back great this year. I'm glad the owners were patient and gave her the time off and she's come back great. She's beautiful and doing well... I'm not sure what's next. This was a big win, and we'll look ahead."
The Davona Dale marks two straight wins off the layoff for the Godolphin runner, who came back Jan. 21 to win a Gulfstream allowance for her first start since that Ladies Handicap sixth last February. Bred in Kentucky by Darley out of the Touch Gold mare Composure, she improved her record to 5-1-2 from 13 starts for earnings of $404,635.