Though technically a grade 3, the one-mile Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association was top level in every sense, featuring four of the top six finishers from the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T). And when the dust settled in that eight-furlong run, La Coronel was 3 1/4 lengths clear of a field considered one of the best of the track's spring meeting.
When the daughter of Colonel John returns to the Lexington oval this week, she will do so in an attempt to reclaim some of the magic that has dimmed as the result of three straight defeats. The good news where John Oxley's filly is concerned is the Keeneland course has a history of showcasing her best version.
Another gathering of exceptionally salty competitors awaits in the Oct. 14 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes presented by Lane's End (G1T) with the 11-horse field luring grade/group 1 winners New Money Honey, Wuheida, and Dream Dancing, along with improving graded stakes winner Uni.
It wasn't that long ago that La Coronel owned bragging rights over a chunk of her expected foes in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile QEII. After toppling the likes of New Money Honey and stablemate Dream Dancing in the Appalachian, she notched a half-length victory in the Edgewood Stakes Presented by Forcht Bank (G3T)—a win that led to a trip to Royal Ascot for a run in the June 23 Coronation Stakes (G1).
She never got comfortable on the European course, finishing fifth behind dual Guineas heroine Winter. Since returning stateside, La Coronel has been fourth in the Aug. 19 Lake Placid Stakes (G2T) and was second to Uni in the Sept. 16 Sands Point Stakes (G2T).
"I believe she needed the race in the Lake Placid, plus she was really overwhelmed in the paddock for whatever reason," said Norman Casse, son of and top assistant to trainer Mark Casse. "I think her race at Belmont (the Sands Point) was better than people are giving her credit for. She inherited the lead because she broke so well going right into the first turn and she just got run down by the favorite.
"It's not time to write La Coronel off yet. She's coming third race back off the trip from Ascot, she's trained well coming into it, and hopefully we can get her to sit behind some horses this time."
La Coronel is 2-for-2 over the Keeneland course having won the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (G3T) by 4 1/4 lengths last October.
"Not only is she 2-for-2 but those were her really dominating performances," Norman Casse said of her Keeneland starts. "Sometimes Keeneland can have a quirky turf course that some horses don't appreciate and we can go in knowing that both of our horses like Keeneland. That gives us a little extra confidence."
After spending much of the season in her stablemate's shadow, Dream Dancing got out of Dodge and returned with a top-level accolade this summer. The Tapit filly—also owned by Oxley—snapped a four-race losing skid when she shipped West and took the Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club (G1T) by a nose over a field that included fellow QEII entrants Madam Dancealot and Con Te Partiro.
"Basically all spring and all summer she was really starting to tout herself as being better than what she had shown, and she rewarded our confidence," Norman Casse said. "We sent her out to California and we made the right decision and it paid off and she's done really well since then. We expect her to run her 'A' race."
It wouldn't be a grade 1 turf race without proper representatives from the barn of Chad Brown. The reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer has his usual fearful hand in New Money Honey and rising talent Uni.
New Money Honey captured last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and, after her disappointing sixth-place run in the Appalachian, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro looked like her old self with wins in the Wonder Again Stakes (G3T) and Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T). She was fifth in the Aug. 19 Alabama Stakes (G1), but she has trained steadily on the lawn since.
Uni has made three U.S. starts since coming over from France. The daughter of More Than Ready was third in her stateside debut in the Belmont Oaks and improved to second behind Proctor's Ledge in the Lake Placid Stakes before notching her Sands Point triumph.
Keeneland, Saturday, October 14, 2017, Race 9
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Con Te Partiro (KY) Mike E. Smith 121 Wesley A. Ward 30/1 2 2Proctor's Ledge (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 121 Brendan P. Walsh 9/2 3 3Daddys Lil Darling (KY) Robby Albarado 121 Kenneth G. McPeek 20/1 4 4Dream Dancing (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 121 Mark E. Casse 6/1 5 5Unforgetable Filly (GB) Josephine Gordon 121 Hugo Palmer 20/1 6 6La Coronel (KY) Jose Lezcano 121 Mark E. Casse 6/1 7 7Wuheida (GB) William T. Buick 121 Charles Appleby 4/1 8 8Madam Dancealot (IRE) Jamie Theriot 121 Richard Baltas 15/1 9 9Beau Recall (IRE) Joseph Talamo 121 Simon Callaghan 12/1 10 10Uni (GB) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Chad C. Brown 9/2 11 11New Money Honey (KY) Javier Castellano 121 Chad C. Brown 4/1
Keeneland, Saturday, October 14, 2017, Race 9