Alice Metler's Chicago invader Hay Dakota charged home down the center of Churchill Downs' Matt Winn turf course under jockey Denny Velazquez to upset 3-1 favorite Bondurant by a neck in the $100,000 Commonwealth Turf (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-olds Nov. 12.
Scholar Athlete, who led until the final yards, was another half-length back in third.
Sent to post at odds of 29-1 in a field of 11 for the 1 1/16-mile event, Hay Dakota was third-to-last at the top of the stretch but swung wide to deliver his late kick. He outran Bondurant at the finish to stop the clock in 1:43.60 over firm turf.
The gelded son of Haynesfield registered his first graded stakes win and gave Velazquez, who began riding in 2010, and 26-year trainer Joel Berndt their first graded stakes wins.
"This was one of my things to accomplish," Berndt said. "I've won some training titles and won some stakes races, but I thought, 'What's next on my to-do list in my career?' and of course it was to win a graded stakes race and to do it here at Churchill Downs is very special for me."
The victory increased Hay Dakota's earnings to $137,090 with a record of 4-1-3 in 11 starts.
Maryland shipper Scholar Athlete, ridden by Angel Cruz, nearly won in gate-to-wire fashion after setting the pace with fractions of :24.04, :48.88, 1:14.17, and 1:37.76 through a mile.
"Coming to the stretch, I had horse and I asked him, and he responded," Cruz said. "He just got outrun by a couple of horses that had more than me."
As Scholar Athlete dictated the pace, Bondurant raced in the clear on the outside near the back of the pack, with Hay Dakota just to his inside. Both horses commenced their moves on the far turn, but it was the extremely wide Hay Dakota who prevailed at the wire. He returned $60.20, $23.40 and $11.60. Bondurant brought $5.20 and $3.80, and Scholar Athlete paid $3.60.
Prior to the Commonwealth Turf, Hay Dakota won an allowance/optional claiming event Oct. 19 going 1 1/16 miles on turf over his home track at Hawthorne Race Course. In late August, he finished third and was only beaten a neck by One Mean Man in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park, which encouraged Berndt to try the Commonwealth Turf after a recent Hawthorne allowance race didn't fill.
"I thought he had a shot, gauging off of One Mean Man, and he was beating older horses up at Canterbury Park and Hawthorne," Berndt said. "We were so far back that day in the Mystic Lake Derby and it was all speed that was winning that day. Maybe just one more jump would've helped us out.
"I've never won a race at Churchill Downs, let alone a graded stakes race, so to be able to say that I accomplished that is pretty awesome."
Hay Dakota, out of the Harlan's Holiday mare Church by the Sea, was bred in Kentucky by the Commonwealth's former Governor Brereton C. Jones. He was a $47,000 purchase by Stewart Mettler from Jones' consignment to the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.