Trainer Lynn Ashby had a prompt response when asked what avenue her charge Tricky Escape might be best at.
"Anything you ask her to," Ashby grinned.
On Nov. 18 over a rain-soaked Churchill Downs main track, Jon Marshall's Tricky Escape proved most adept at getting a heated battle to go her way when she just got her nose down over Fair Point to take an off-the-turf edition of the $100,000 Cardinal Handicap.
The Cardinal Handicap was originally slated to be run as a grade 3 test going 1 1/8 miles on the grass, but was automatically downgraded pending a review by the American Graded Stakes Committee because of the surface switch.
Regardless of whether the Cardinal gets it grade reinstated, the sloppy Cardinal Handicap will go down as the latest example of Tricky Escape's versatility. Unraced until December of 2016, the 4-year-old daughter of Hat Trick (JPN) began her career sprinting on the dirt and broke her maiden going seven furlongs at Laurel Park Feb. 5.
Since she switched to the turf and stretched out in April, the dark bay filly has continued to be a reliable performer for Ashby, with three more victories—including the Violet Stakes (G3T) at Monmouth Park in August— and without a finish worse than fourth in any of her 14 starts.
"She's amazing. She is always game and she always shows up," Ashby said. "She hasn't ever run a bad race."
Tricky Escape came into Saturday's test off a third-place finish in a one-mile turf allowance race at Belmont Park Oct. 6. With five contenders, including expected race favorite Dona Bruja, scratched out of the Cardinal, the 5-2 second-choice and her six other rivals had a prime chance to add a dash more black-type to their résumés.
With jockey Christopher DeCarlo in the saddle, Tricky Escape saved ground covered up along the rail in fourth as 30-1 longshot Coco Channel took the field through an opening quarter in :25.23 and a half in :50.60, with B Rockett tracking second in the two-path.
Coco Channel was still live for the upset bid coming around the far turn as Fair Point and Linda launched their bids on the far outside. As the field straightened out for the stretch run, Tricky Escape came through on the rail to engage a still-game Coco Channel, as Fair Point was making her bid three-wide. Despite contact with Coco Channel, who was in tight between foes, Tricky Escape fought on to hit the wire in 1:53.85—then survived an objection to officially earn her fourth win.
"When I went inside, I think the other riders were probably cussing me at one point," DeCarlo said. "This filly tries so hard. Lynn does a great job with her. We broke well and got into a good spot. She just kept tugging along and dug in in the final stages."
Bred by Robert Trussell Jr. and John Jones III, Tricky Escape improved her bankroll to $308,480 and paid out $7, $3.40, and $2.80 across the board. She is out of the multiple stakes-winning Petionville mare Island Escape.