It is tradition for the winning connections of a graded stakes at the Lexington track to head to the Director's Room for a champagne toast. Considering Bonde saddled a total of seven starters at Keeneland prior to Saturday and none since 2012, he happily needed to be informed of the post-race protocol after Miss Sunset made sure her conditioner's rare venture to the Bluegrass was worth his while.
"I ran second (in the grade 2 Darley Alcibiades Stakes in 2006) with Untouched Talent, who ended up being the mother of (grade 1 winner) Bodemeister . That's about as good as I've done (at Keeneland)," Bonde said. "I don't come out here that often."
Bonde will bring a freshly minted graded stakes winner back to his California base after Miss Sunset wore down pacesetter and fellow Southern California resident Chalon in deep stretch to win the seven-furlong Raven Run by a half-length.
Owned by Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, Miss Sunset was originally entered in the California Distaff Handicap at Santa Anita Park Oct. 14, a spot where she would have been among the favorites coming off a pair of sprint stakes victories at Del Mar this summer. The desire to get some graded glory for the 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief prompted her connections to scratch out of that spot against California-breds and head to Kentucky instead.
After getting a stalking trip under jockey Julien Leparoux, Miss Sunset showed that the more aggressive approach was something she was definitely ready for.
"My owners own the mare of this horse and they also own Smiling Tiger , a popular sire in California, and so they thought it was in their interest to try and get graded stakes-placed," Bonde said. "We got better than that. Every time this filly runs, she's one of the most honest horses I've ever had in a long time. She gives it her all.
"If you beat her, you've got to come with your 'A' game."
In 11 starts Miss Sunset has finished worse than third just twice. Her front-running style carried her to stakes wins on turf and dirt, but it was her victory in the Sept. 4 C.E.R.F. Stakes at Del Mar that showed some maturity, as she raced behind the early pacesetter that day before she surged to a 1 3/4-length win.
A similar scenario played out Saturday, as Chalon held a half-length edge, with Miss Sunset to her outside in second, as the former went through the opening quarter in :22.64 and a half-mile in :45.61.
Coming into the stretch, Chalon—who finished second in the Oct. 7 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G2) at Keeneland—was doing all she could to fend off the 3-1 favorite, only to give way a handful of strides before the wire.
"We got a perfect post for that," Leparoux added. "I let her break and left her alone. She was very easy to rate, and she finished up very strong."
Miss Sunset covered the distance in 1:22.21 over a track rated fast. Chalon held for second, one length in front of longshot Torrent, with Tequilita and Nonna Mela completing the top five in the 10-horse field.
Bred in California by Klein and Premier Thoroughbreds out of the Trippi mare Tuscan Sunset, Miss Sunset now boasts seven wins from 11 starts with $600,390 in earnings. She paid $8.80, $5.40, and $4 across the board.
"She's been a Type-A kind of horse and (the) more she's raced, the more professional she's gotten," Bonde said. "She's learning how to wait a little bit now."