Finley'sluckycharm gets her head in front at the wire in the Madison Stakes at Keeneland

Finley'sluckycharm gets her head in front at the wire in the Madison Stakes at Keeneland

Anne M. Eberhardt

Finley'sluckycharm Captures Madison by a Nose

Daughter of Twirling Candy remained unbeaten in Kentucky.

Each time Finley'sluckycharm made a competitive visit to her Kentucky home, she always made a point to show her native crowd the best version of herself.

Seven times prior to April 7, the daughter of Twirling Candy  made starts in the Bluegrass state. And in each of those outings, she won.

So when Carl Moore's venerable mare found herself clinging to a short lead in the Keeneland stretch as a trio of swarming rivals attempted to deny her first top-level victory in the $300,000 Madison Stakes (G1), she once again made sure no one got the better of her in front of her people.

Trainer Bret Calhoun went from stressed out to jubilant in a fantastic couple of moments Saturday when Finley'sluckycharm survived a cavalry-charge blanket finish to win by a nose over Miss Sunsetwith favorite Lewis Bay another nostril back in third.

"It got pretty exciting there late, a little too close for comfort," Calhoun said. "I had high expectations but ... it got very scary there those last couple of jumps."

She may not have had a grade 1 victory on her record before this weekend, but few in the female sprint ranks have been as consistent as Finley'sluckycharm. The Kentucky-bred dark bay mare has been off the board only twice in 15 career starts, and all four of her graded stakes wins have come in her home state.

One of her rare off days came in November when she finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) at Del Mar. After giving his mare a deserved freshening, and then starting her back with a runner-up finish in the Mardi Gras Stakes on the turf at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Calhoun felt confident his seasoned vet would not disappoint.

"I really thought she was coming into this race very, very well," Calhoun said. "This was a deep, very tough field but ... she's been very deserving of a grade 1, and we're so happy to get it here at Keeneland."

Where a minor setback kept Finley'sluckycharm from making the Madison last season, the 5-year-old made every step of the sprint count against a deep bunch that included American Gal, who shot to the lead in the field of 10 in her first start since taking the Longines Test Stakes (G1) in August.

As American Gal sizzled through fractions of :21.96 and :44.31 under Jose Ortiz, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. kept 5-1 shot Finley'sluckycharm just off the leader's flank in second. When Finley'sluckycharm edged up on the far turn to take command at the head of the lane, she had Lewis Bay and Miss Sunset trying to run her down on the outside with American Gal rallying up the rail.

The quartet hit the wire with about a head separating them, but it was Finley'sluckycharm who prevailed, covering the distance in 1:22.82 over a track rated fast.

"She's a naturally fast filly. Her last couple of races, she didn't get away (from the gate) very smoothly, so today that was our game plan," Hernandez said. "She's one of the special fillies—the faster she goes, she just kind of runs horses off their feet, and that's what she did today.

"You have to be really proud of this filly," he continued. "She dug in today—she was never going to let that eight horse (Miss Sunset) by her. At the wire, I thought we won, but I was a little worried. It was really close, but she was there for us."

American Gal was fourth, just a head behind Lewis Bay. Graded stakes winner Salty rounded out the top five.

Bred by Lakland Farm, Finley'sluckycharm improved her record to 10 wins from 15 starts, with six of her victories coming at Churchill Downs. Given that this year's Breeders' Cup will be held beneath the Twin Spires, a return trip to the Filly & Mare Sprint should be on tap as long as she keeps being her usual self.

"As she's gotten older, she's learned to turn off better and better," Calhoun said of his charge, who is out of the Victory Gallop mare Day of Victory. "(The Breeders' Cup) is always the year-end goal, and she's never been beaten in Kentucky. It would be great to run her out of her own stall. She's pretty gutty."

Video: Madison S. (G1)