Inimitable Romanee's connections challenged her with higher-quality races and longer distances in recent months.
As the demands cranked up, the 6-year-old responded with some of the best efforts of her career. The pinnacle came Thursday with her determined stretch rally over the Keeneland turf course to win the Grade III, $150,000 Bewitch Stakes by a head over Aigue Marine.
Inimitable Romanee won only two of her first 19 career starts, though she did have some admirable on-the-board finishes against some good stakes fields in New York.
Since stretching out to longer distances, Marlene Brody's homebred gray mare has found a new edge. The 11/2-mile Bewitch marked the third graded stakes victory for Inimitable Romanee in her last four starts, all of which have come at 13⁄8 miles or beyond.
"It (stretching out) was always something we wanted to try, and I just wish we tried it earlier in her career quite honestly," trainer Graham Motion said from his base in Maryland. "We just never really had the right opportunity ... and in fairness she was running against a really tough group of New York breds. Without a doubt (added distance) is what has turned her around."
Dismissed at odds of 14-1 coming off her seventh-place finish in the Grade III Orchid Stakes on March 29, Inimitable Romanee was overshadowed by the likes of Group I winner Romantica in the Bewitch as that one was deemed the 3-5 choice in the 12-horse field.
After tracking just behind Romantica midpack as Viva Rafaela carved out the opening half-mile in :51.89, Inimitable Romanee angled to far outside past Freedom Reigns to her inside and took aim at Aigue Marine who had taken a short lead in the stretch.
Under vigorous urging from jockey Alan Garcia, Inimitable Romanee just got up on the outside in the final strides with Grade II winner Caroline Thomas running on inside to snag third, three-quarters of a length in front of Romantica.
"I was really worried because I thought the No. 12 was a tough post for her," Motion said. "I think today she proved she could run with anybody. I think this really put her on a different level so we have to come up with a game plan for the rest of the year."
Final time over a course rated firm was 2:32.29.
Much as he enjoys the surroundings, Motion may be tempted to stay away from Keeneland as the Bewitch marked the second graded stakes he's won this meet when he has not been present. Daring Dancer took the Grade III Appalachian last week in Motion's absence.
"I will be there (Friday) although I really do feel like I should stay away," Motion joked.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.