Trainer James DiVito began the year thinking he might just have a Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender in James Miller's Lovely Bernadette—and it wasn't an aspiration rooted in the whimsical.
The daughter of Wilburn had won her first three starts on the dirt as a juvenile, including the one-mile Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs. Though she finished fifth in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) the following month, the well-regarded filly who prevailed that day— Farrell—was one she had bested in two prior meetings.
The transition from age 2 to 3 didn't pan out as expected, and in an attempt to get his charge's form on track, DiVito decided to see how Lovely Bernadette would take to life on the lawn this summer. On Oct. 20, the bay filly confirmed she had a new, successful twist to her career when she shook clear in late stretch for her first graded stakes win in the $150,000 Pin Oak Valley View Stakes (G3T) at Keeneland.
The 1 1/16-mile Valley View marked the fifth try for Lovely Bernadette on grass and her third win on that surface. After she knocked heads with the likes of future grade 1 winners It Tiz Well and Elate during a four-race losing skid on the dirt, DiVito knew he needed to try a different tact with the bay filly, a decision that was promptly rewarded when she beat older fillies in her first try on turf at Churchill Downs in June.
"She was kind of tailing off a little bit after she ran a few races on the dirt that weren't too good. I said we ought to take a chance on the grass at least once and she won that day," DiVito said. "She beat older fillies that day and the rest has kind of just followed.
"When she won her first three races on dirt, it looked like (she could be an Oaks filly), but it didn't work out for her. Sometimes they tail off, but she's coming back good, so we're happy as a lark."
After running third to fellow Valley View entrant Fault in the Aug. 12 Pucker Up Stakes (G3T), Lovely Bernadette earned her first stakes win on her new surface when she took the Sept. 6 Indiana Grand Stakes.
As well as she was training heading into her Keeneland outing, DiVito thought she was dealt an obstacle before she ever got in the gate when she drew the rail in the 13-horse field—not exactly ideal for a filly who showed little preference for being stuck inside. But jockey Florent Geroux handled his mount in ideal fashion Friday. He saved ground on the rail in fourth, then third, as I'm Betty G cut fractions of :23.67 and :48.03 on the front end.
When Defiant Honor advanced two-wide on the far turn to engage the pacesetter, Geroux shifted Lovely Bernadette out and gave her clear running room to do her thing down the middle of the course en route to a 1 1/2-length victory.
"The only thing I was really concerned about was the inside. She doesn't really like the inside," DiVito said. "Florent did a great job of following the speed, and once she got outside, she accelerated."
"My filly broke very sharp and from there it was just tracking the horse on the lead," Geroux added. "I tried to nurse her and get her to relax. When I asked her turning for home, she gave me a very good kick."
Journey Home, the 3-1 favorite, came running late to get second, with I'm Betty G holding for third. Fault and Defiant Honor completed the top five.
Lovely Bernadette covered the distance in 1:42.80 over a course rated firm and paid $11.60, $5.60, and $4.40 across the board. Bred in Kentucky by David Hager II, she improved her record to six wins from 13 starts with $390,613 in earnings.
"I'll talk to Mr. Miller but probably the grade 2 at Churchill (Mrs. Revere Stakes Nov. 24)—that would be the logical place," DiVito said of the filly's next possible start. "She's training really good, too. It's all working out now."