For the second straight race, Hot Cha Cha saw her luck change for the better.
As a result, the filly rewarded her connections with the most illustrious result of their careers.
With an explosive burst up the rail, Hot Cha Cha upended six rivals to capture the Grade I, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup by 41/2-lengths over the Keeneland turf Saturday.
In addition to earning the first Grade I victory of her 11-race career, Hot Cha Cha's breakout win gave jockey James Graham and longtime Keeneland-based trainer Phil Sims their first Grade I wins.
Never miss a local story.
After watching Hot Cha Cha endure a four-race losing skid earlier this year, seeing her win the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington last month and then throttle some of the best 3-year-old grass fillies in the country Saturday was the ultimate reward for her connections.
"She always tries hard. She's kind of unassuming, but she just tries so hard, and she just keeps getting better all the time," said Sims, who has been training for more than 25 years and notched his first graded stakes win in March when Hot Cha Cha won the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway.
"(The difference) the last two times is, she's had good trips. Before she had been shut off a lot and, the last two races, she's had clear paths. It's made a difference because she's been able to run her race."
Owned and bred by Lexington-based Nelson McMakin, Hot Cha Cha got a ground-saving ride from Graham, settling into third then fourth along the rail just behind pacesetter Shared Account though an opening half-mile in :51.27.
Grade I winner Gozzip Girl advanced on the outside to draw even with Shared Account around the final turn, but both were left behind when Hot Cha Cha exploded through on the rail at the head of the lane.
"I pulled the trigger a little sooner than I wanted but, if I didn't, the hole would've closed, and I would have never got through," said Graham, who has been riding since 2003 and first rode Hot Cha Cha in the Pucker Up Stakes. "Once I went through, that was the end of it. After her last race, I knew they were going to have to run to beat her today."
In her first time over a course rated soft, Hot Cha Cha covered the 11⁄8 miles in 1:53.09.
Shared Account, runner-up in the Grade I Garden City Stakes on Sept. 12, held for second, and 3-5 favorite Gozzip Girl was 11/2 lengths behind in third.
"(Jockey) Kent (Desormeaux) said when he pushed the button to go on, she just didn't have her closing kick," said Tom Albertrani, trainer of Gozzip Girl.
Hot Cha Cha, who didn't make her career debut until last December, improved her record to five wins in 11 starts with earnings of $585,566.
While Sims said he and McMakin would consider a trip to the Breeders' Cup for Hot Cha Cha, the main priority is making sure their filly is fresh and ready for what they hope will be a stellar 4-year-old campaign.
"I'm from Lexington, and it's always great to win here at Keeneland," said McMakin, who got his first Grade I win as an owner. "We knew she was honest every time she ran, and we knew, if she got the right trip, we'd be all right."