Stretching out in distance seemed to do the trick for Patrona Margarita who easily pulled away from her competition in the stretch to win the Sept. 16. $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Although Craig Upham's homebred filly won her debut going 4 1/2 furlongs June 9 at Churchill, she returned three weeks later for the six-furlong Debutante Stakes in the slop and finished eighth after going extremely wide in the turn. The Texas-bred daughter of Special Rate then ran at Lone Star Park in the five-furlong Texas Thoroughbred Futurity, where she finished a close third.
Her connections thought she was a two-turn runner and their thoughts were confirmed Saturday, when their filly won the 1 1/16-mile race for juvenile fillies by 3 3/4 lengths over the main track.
"What a rollercoaster day. It’s tough when you think back on what could have been, winning two stakes, but we are happy to win the Pocahontas," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun, whose Mayla finished first in the Open Mind Stakes two races prior but was disqualified to fifth for interference in the stretch. "We pointed toward this race and she's trained phenomenally. She looked like a true two-turn horse in the mornings."
In the Pocahontas, Primo Extremo led the field of 12 fillies early, and Vision of Justice tracked closely in second as favorite Snowfire settled in fifth. Patrona Margarita raced in seventh for the first half-mile while racing wide. Primo Extremo took the field through fractions of :23.68, :48.83, and 1:14.45 for six furlongs.
Around the far turn Primo Extremo and Vision of Justice began to tire as Sunny Skies, who was wide around the first turn, traveled in the four-path around the second turn and Patrona Margarita, in the five-path, surged forward. Under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Patrona Margarita took control in the stretch and began to open up on the field while lugging in. She crossed the wire first in a final time of 1:46.35 over a fast track.
Kelly's Humor, who raced in ninth early, rallied from fifth in the stretch and finished a neck ahead of Sunny Skies for second. Primo Extremo held on for fourth.
Off at 23-1 Patrona Margarita returned $49.60, $22, and $9.40 across the board.
"Craig has been saying it all along: wait until this filly stretches out to two turns," said Hernandez, who returned to ride Patrona Margarita after a spill in the Open Mind Stakes, when Ivy Bell clipped heels. "With 2-year-olds you never know how they will respond passing horses, and you have to feel good the way she was able to win this race today."
Out of the winning Naevus mare Margarita Mistress, Patrona Margarita is a half sister to multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Texas Chrome. She now has earnings of $150,253.
"With her breeding we always thought she'd do well going around two turns. It's special to be on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks trail. Our horse will tell us where to send her next. I just hope she comes out of the race happy and healthy," Upham said.
With her win Patrona Margarita earned 10 points in the Road to the Kentucky Oaks standings. The race awarded qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.
The Pocahontas is also a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Patrona Margarita is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup.
"She’s not Breeders’ Cup eligible, so we’ll probably point toward the (Oct. 6 grade 1 Darley) Alcibiades at Keeneland," Calhoun said.