Monomoy Girl, the overwhelming 1-5 choice, won the 81st running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, and put herself among the likely favorites for the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Brad Cox with Florent Geroux up, Monomoy Girl easily pulled away from second-place Eskimo Kisses. Patrona Margarita came in third. Each bolstered their résumés for the Oaks, a showcase for 3-year-old fillies.
“It’s special. It means a lot to me that we’ve had her since her 2-year-old year,” Cox said after his filly’s first Grade 1 win. “She’s really developed. We thought a lot of her last year, and she’s obviously taken it to the next level.”
Monomoy Girl’s 154 “Road to the Oaks” points ranks among the leaders to get into the 14-horse field on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby.
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She broke cleanly from the first post, quickly took the lead before the field hit the first turn and was barely challenged down the backstretch as jockey Florent Geroux extended a ¾-length lead to 1½ lengths as they rounded back to the grandstand.
“There wasn’t really a plan, (we) just wanted to get a good position and let the filly be comfortable,” Geroux said.
As Monomoy Girl came down the front stretch, it became clear she was the class of the field pulling out to a 5½ length victory. It was Geroux’s third win on the day.
“We just took it to them and she was the best,” Geroux said. “She can go very fast.”
Kenny McPeek’s Eskimo Kisses, a clear second choice at 5-1, trailed the field much of the way before Corey Lanerie got her going with three furlongs left. She bested third place Patrona Margarita by 7½ lengths and took 40 Road to the Oaks points, giving her 80 total and another likely spot in the Kentucky Oaks field.
“We were really pleased with her race,” McPeek said. “Obviously the winner is extremely fast and we have a lot of respect for her, but we feel pretty confident moving forward. A mile and an eighth we’re going to like even better. She’s doing everything right, improving, and now we have Grade 1 type.”
Monomoy Girl finished the 1 1/16th-mile race in 1:43.74 and paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10 on a $2 bet with Eskimo Kisses paying $3.20 and $2.40. Patrona Margarita paid $3.20 for third.
Cold? What Cold?
While the morning snow and afternoon cold probably kept Keeneland from any chance of an attendance record, there were plenty of hardy folks in the stands and on the rail Saturday afternoon.
Keeneland announced 14,269 came out on a chilly day that started with a dusting of snow.
Temperatures hovered in the 30s early in the afternoon, but climbed to 41 degrees as the day wore on. Katie Sallee of Lexington and a friend said their key to keeping warm was “layers.”
“It’s not too bad,” Sallee said after the third race. “We’re were a little afraid of the snow, but we bundled up and pretty much prepared for anything.”
On the rail, Ryan Webb of Lynchburg, Va., stood with is daughter, Broughton, 7, and her friend, Lettie Tarkington, 7. Webb visits the track with his family while visiting his in-laws, he said.
“Yesterday was better, but it’s still a nice day to be at the races,” Webb said. He and the girls had been going back and forth from the grandstand to trackside. The girls were hoping to be able to pet a horse.
“If the people who are taking them back are nice enough, they’ll let you pet them,” Lettie said.
The longest shot of the day came in the first stakes race on the card as D. Wayne Lukas’ Warrior’s Club stunned in the Grade 3, $250,000 Commonwealth Stakes at 23-1 odds, winning by a neck.
The 8-5 favorite, Limousine Liberal, who finished third in this same race last year, came in second a neck ahead of Awesome Saturday, a 16-1 shot.
A $2 win bet brought $48.80 with the $2 exacta paying $170.80 and the long-odds $2 trifecta bringing a whopping $1,459.20.
Finley’sluckycharm eeked out a five-wide stretch run to the wire to win the Grade 1, $300,000 Madison.
In a photo finish that included Miss Sunset in second and Lewis Bay in third, the margins were a nose, a nose and a head.
Trained by W. Bret Calhoun and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Finley’sluckycharm, a 5-1 shot, paid $13.80, $7.20 and $4.60. It was the 5-year-old mare’s first Grade 1 win.
Mike Battaglia, who for the first time in several meets doesn’t have an on-air role with Keeneland, sat in the press box with an old friend, sportscaster and former NBC colleague Tom Hammond. As Battaglia pulled up a chair to Hammond’s customary spot, Hammond chided that he’d better not bring his usual luck with him.
“You’d be broke without me,” Battaglia retorted.
Some of Keeenland’s favorite jockeys will be on hand Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. next to the paddock for an autograph signing to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
Scheduled to appear are Hall of Famers Sandy Hawley and Chris McCarron, Jean Cruguet, Carl Faulconer, Johnny and Suzie Oldham, Larry Melancon, James Bruin, Joe Steiner, Mike Manganello, Rafael Estrella, Tony D’Amico, Michael Heath, Pat Day, PJ Cooksey and Kaoru Tsuchiya.