Heavily favored Safari Queen accelerated to the lead entering the stretch en route to a decisive two-length victory in the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) for older fillies Wednesday at Keeneland.
The distance-loving Argentine-bred 5-year-old mare ran the 1 1/2 miles on the firm turf in 2:28.75 on firm going and won for the fourth time in her last five starts for owner Arindel Farm. She increased her career earnings to $583,489.
The Bewitch was the 15th stakes victory of the meet for the team of jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher.
“She broke well enough that she dropped inside and we saved ground,” said Velazquez. “When we went into the second turn, she was closing up and I let her do her own thing. From then on, she did it pretty free and easy.”
Safari Queen took the lead in upper stretch from Moon Berry, who set an easy pace for the opening mile with fractions of :24 2/5, :50, 1:15 2/5 and 1:40 2/5. The French-bred Barancella and jockey Javier Castellano tried to catch Safari Queen in the stretch but her rally fell two lengths short. “We followed her, and we both saved ground, but turning for home she (Safari Queen) just took off,” said Castellano.
Barancella held on for second, 12 lengths in front of the Brazilian-bred Moon Berry. Maxine’s Hymn, Indy Trouble and Mama I’m Home completed the field of six fillies and mares.
Safari Queen improved her lifetime record to nine wins in 15 starts for Alan Cohen’s Arindel Farm and paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10. She added the Bewitch to graded stakes victories in the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT), La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIT) and Orchid Handicap (gr. IIIT), all at 11 furlongs or longer.
“That’s where we really found her niche,” said Pletcher. “She was a nice filly before that, but once we stretched her out to a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half, that’s been her game.”
Barancella returned $2.60 and $2.20 and Moon Berry paid $2.80.