The well-traveled Zipessa got back in the win column with a flourish Saturday, reeling in a loose leader for the first Grade 1 victory of her career in the Grade 1, $400,000 First Lady Stakes on the Keeneland turf.
"She had this one coming," said Michael Stidham, who trains the 5-year-old City Zip mare for Empyrean Stables. "She worked hard for it. She's a really sweet, special filly."
Zipessa ($35.20) had gone winless in eight starts at six different tracks since taking the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial Stakes in July 2016 at Parx Racing. That streak included two Grade 1 placings: she was third in last year's Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park and was second in the Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita, beaten less than a length in the latter. She came into the First Lady having finished second, bested only a neck by Miss Temple City, in the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf.
Multiple graded stakes winner Hawksmoor broke from the outside post in the field of seven for the First Lady, but, in a cagey ride from jockey Julien Leparoux, the filly quickly scooted by the field through a moderate opening quarter of 24.59 seconds, and angled inside when clear, coasting through the half in 49.19 while up by three lengths. In response, jockey Joe Bravo settled Zipessa, who typically races on or just off the lead, back in second. "[Stidham] let me go out there and ride with an open mind," Bravo said.
Zipessa was steadily eating up ground around the far turn and took dead aim on Hawksmoor when straightened away into the lane. She caught her nearing the furlong marker and kicked clear for a 1 1/2-length victory. The final time for the mile was 1:36.99.
Hawksmoor held second by a neck over a rallying Roja Rojo, who had been sent away as the favorite. It was another three-quarters of a length to Dona Bruja, nosing out Dickinson for fourth. The latter was vying for a second Grade 1 victory at Keeneland after defeating Lady Eli by a nose in the Jenny Wiley Stakes during the spring meet.
With her First Lady victory, Zipessa earned a fees-paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf next month at Del Mar. She finished fifth in last year's edition at Santa Anita.