LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Passing the five-furlong pole, with heavily favored Warrior's Reward already pulling even, Successful Dan appeared headed for defeat. But the gritty Successful Dan refused to lose when emerging best by a head after a virtual race-long duel Saturday in the Grade 3, $108,900 Northern Dancer Stakes on the Stephen Foster undercard at Churchill Downs.
With Julien Leparoux riding for breeder-owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti, Successful Dan remained unbeaten in three career starts by capturing his stakes debut.
"My horse just kept going and kept digging," said Leparoux. "This is a very good horse. He hasn't made any mistakes yet."
Successful Dan, a Kentucky-bred by Successful Appeal, returned $6.40 as second choice after finishing 1o1/16 miles in 1:43.30 over a fast track. Omniscient was third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Warrior's Reward in the field of six 3-year-olds.
Stretching out after opening his career with back-to-back sprint wins, Successful Dan led along the rail through moderate fractions of 24.54 seconds, 48.63, and 1:13.01, all the while with Warrior's Reward, the 4-5 favorite, looming ominously to his outside with Calvin Borel aboard.
"He ran good and just missed," said Borel.
"I thought for a minute that we were beat, because that's a very, very good horse we ran against," said the Keeneland-based Lopresti.
Florentino saves best for last
If pace truly makes the race, then the Grade 2, $163,500 Jefferson Cup - perhaps even more so than the Northern Dancer - should serve as an example of how slow early fractions will help get a front-runner to the wire first.
Florentino ($9.20), nursed along on fractions of 25, 50.26, and 1:15.31 by Alan Garcia, maintained his advantage on his race-long pursuers, El Crespo and No Inflation, to take the 1o1/8-mile turf race by three-quarters of a length. El Crespo, the 9-5 favorite, outnodded No Inflation by a neck for second, while Advice, the 2-1 second choice when making his first start since running 13th in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, failed to contend when fourth of seven 3-year-olds.
"This was super," said a beaming Neal McLaughlin, assistant to his brother, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We got rained off the turf last week" in the Hill Prince at Belmont Park, "and this race came up just right for us. Alan rode a great race on the front end."
Keertana gives Albarado fifth winner
Keertana, placed in the clear throughout, surged to victory in the stretch to give jockey Robby Albarado his fifth winner of the day in the Grade 3, $150,000 Regret Stakes.
Tracking just off the pace on the outside early, as longshot Oculuna set slow fractions of 24.73 seconds, 50.48, and 1:15 in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, Keertana and Albarado took advantage of his opponents not enjoying the same, clear trip.
Always in a comfortable spot, she was in position to fire in the stretch, while some of her opponents were not, most notably third-place Hot Cha Cha, who was trapped behind a wall of horses for much of the race.
The Best Day Ever rallied to be second, although never a serious threat to the winner.
Keertana, a 3-year-old daughter of Johar trained by Tom Proctor and owned by Barbara Hunter, was timed on a firm turf course in 1:52.02, paying $14.80.
The stakes victory was the first of her career, and followed an entry-level allowance triumph at Churchill Downs on May 30.
- additional reporting by Byron King