Magdalena Racing and Diamond M StablesWar Dancer grabbed leaving the final turn and turned back a fierce late charge from Suntracer to win Saturday’s 77th running of the $110,200 Louisville Handicap (Grade III) by a head at Churchill Downs.

War Dancer, ridden by Alan Garcia and trained by Kenny McPeek, clocked 1 ½ miles over firm turf in a stakes record 2:28.23, besting the 2:28.35 by McPeek’s 2007 winner Drilling for Oil.

This was McPeek’s third win in the turf marathon. He also saddled Pisces to a dead-heat victory with Classic Par in the 2002 Louisville Handicap.

Through the first six furlongs of the race, War Dancer rated patiently behind pacesetter Tattenham, who clicked off fractions of :25.70, :51.67 and 1:16.88. Garcia asked War Dancer to draw even with the leader down the backstretch and forged command with a quarter mile left to run. Suntracer, the Chicago-based three-time stakes winner who loomed boldly from the outside entering the stretch, matched strides with War Dancer for three-sixteenths of a mile down the lane, only to be turned back in the final yards.

The victory was worth $66,274 and improved War Dancer’s earnings to $541,717 with a record of 13-4-3-1.

The Lou ’Cap was War Dancer’s first graded stakes triumph since capturing the $500,000 Virginia Derby (GII) last summer. He entered Saturday’s race off a second in last month’s Elkhorn (GII) at Keeneland.

War Dancer, a 4-year-old son of War Front out of the Alydeed mare Deed I Do was bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm LLC and Stuart S. Janney III LLC.

War Dancer, the 118-pound starting high weight, returned $3.80, $2.40 and $2.20 as the 4-5 favorite in the field of eight older horses. Suntracer, ridden by Robby Albarado with 117 pounds, paid $5.80 and $3.40. Moro Tap was another three lengths back in third under Rosie Napravnik, who won five races earlier on the card, and paid $3.60 while toting 115 pounds.

Napravnik's five wins on Saturday established a Churchill Downs record for wins by a female rider in a single day.  The record had been held by Donna Barton Brothers, who piloted four horses into the winner's circle on June 28, 1996.

Forte Dei Marmi-GB, Star Channel, Perfect Timber, Tattenham and Formidable Heart completed the order of finish.

LOUISVILLE HANDICAP QUOTES

ALAN GARCIA, jockey of War Dancer (winner) – “He broke well. I wanted to get him right up close to the pace. At first he was feeling comfortable and everything but on the backside I had to ask a little bit to get my position. Turning for home I started hitting and thought we were clear and then was surprised when I saw the other horse (Suntracer) gaining on our outside. I got nervous for a second but when my horse spotted him on the outside, I felt him dig in and that’s when I knew I had more horse and we got the win.”

KENNY McPEEK, trainer of War Dancer (winner) – “He’s a really cool horse. We knew he could handle these longer distances and he tends to keep himself out of trouble going a mile-and-a-half. When we’ve run him a mile-and-a-sixteenth or even a mile-and-an eighth, he has to weave his way through traffic and he tends to find trouble. Alan (Garcia) did a great job poking him into a hole and he got him there. This horse has a bit of an attitude, if you’re around him and even try to pet him he likes to pin his ears and act sassy. I saw him pinning his ears at the eighth pole and I knew he had a shot to fight back. Robby (Albarado on Suntracer) did a good job making it tight. He’s a really nice horse to be around and I was very proud of him today.”

ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey of Suntracer (second) – “My horse ran great. I had a great trip and actually followed the winner for most of the way. Turning for home I thought we might’ve had him for a split second but unfortunately we got beat. They both ran great races. I had no excuse but you never like to lose those close ones.”

“I’m disappointed. I’m hard on myself – I’m not supposed to lose those close ones. I’ve got to find a way to win those kind. I know I can do it and I should have done it there. I don’t know what I could have done, but I’ll have to evaluate and see what I could have done differently. I hate losing that close, you know?

                “I knew I got beat at the wire, but for my own personal stuff I don’t like losing them close. I feel like I’m supposed to be the difference, but I wasn’t today. But the horse ran huge, though – both horses. They ran to the wire and ran as hard as they could.”

RYAN BLOCK, assistant and brother to trainer Chris Block of Suntracer (second) – “He ran his race. He sat off the pace and made his run down the stretch, and just got nipped at the wire by a good horse.”

Q: Robby was kind of blaming himself losing a close one … “No, no, no – Robby can’t blame himself.  It was a just a head-bob right there at the end.  We’ll regroup and get ready for the Stars and Stripes (at Arlington Park)”

ROSIE NAPRAVNIK, jockey of Moro Tap (third) – “I had a ton of horse and I was sitting in a really great spot. I think they kind of sprinted away from us a little bit on my horse and they made up a lot more ground at the end. He still ran a great race.

                “I was kind of waiting for some room and I was following the 2-horse (War Dancer) the whole way. But my horse’s kick isn’t quite as quick and it takes a little bit more for him to get going, so they sprinted away from us a little bit.”

                On winning five races at Churchill Downs on Saturday … “It was great.  It’s great when things are all going in your favor, and I just lucky to be riding for the people I’m riding for and how it worked out.”

 

Sign up for race updates, wagering tips, and inside news

Thank you to our sponsor