There were several advantages working in Haka's favor when she stepped into the gate for Friday's Grade III Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland.
She had the meet's leading rider Garrett Gomez on her back. She had her improving form, and she definitely had some positive history from her owner's past on her side.
There was no more appropriate winner on the day than Haka, the Claiborne Farm homebred filly who edged clear in the final furlong to win the $100,000 Doubledogdare by 1 length over stablemate Funny Moon.
The 11⁄16-mile race is actually named for one of Claiborne's foundation mares. Doubledogdare was the champion 2-year-old filly and 3-year-old filly for the historic farm during the 1955 and 1956 seasons.
Claiborne's yellow-orange silks fittingly ruled the show as Haka moved up on the outside path around the final turn to overtake Funny Moon and claim her first graded stakes victory in 11 career starts.
"It's fun to win any of them but when the race is named for one of your old ones, it's really nice," said Claiborne's Dell Hancock. "We've always liked this filly a lot and last year she ran into (2-year-old champion) Stardom Bound and just never had things go her way. She certainly deserved this."
After failing to win in all six starts last season, Haka got her 4-year-old campaign off to a more promising start when she rallied late to win a 11⁄16-mile allowance race over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 28.
In a field of five on Friday, Haka rated closer up than normal for her, sitting third down the backstretch as Funny Moon and No Use Denying were side by side on the front end through an opening half-mile in :47.90.
"I had a good stalking trip," said Gomez, who rode two winners on the day to lead the Keeneland standings 13-12 over Julien Leparoux heading into Saturday.
"Once I got a little pressure about the half-mile pole, I eased her out from behind them and she ran on in the stretch."
Once she got clear in the lane, Haka maintained a steady advantage as she covered the distance in 1:44.72.
"She came around. She got bigger, stronger," said Christopher Clement, trainer of both Haka and Funny Moon. "She should have won a stakes before but it took me two years."
Though Funny Moon could not withstand the challenge from Haka in the lane, the Grade I winner — who was making her first start since last August — dug in to hold for second over race favorite Striking Dancer, who was a head back in third.
"I think she just needed a little bit more distance," said Robby Albarado, who was aboard Striking Dancer.