Carolyn Wilson’s Arena Elvira outdueled longshot Afleeting Lady in deep stretch to grind out a win in the 96th running of the $193,725 Falls City Handicap (Grade II) for fillies and mares by a neck on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Junior Alvarado, Arena Elvira raced near the inside rail about two lengths behind pacesetters Juanita and Afleeting Lady as the former led the field of eight through fractions of :24.40, :49.04 and 1:12.83. The leaders got a jump on Arena Elvira on the final turn, but Alvarado switched her to the outside and she wore down the competition in deep stretch for the narrow win in 1:50.76 for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.
“(Alvarado) made the right decision and went for the right spot leaving the quarter pole,” Mott said. “When they were turning for home, he had a choice to make of who to try to get in between and he selected the right spot.”
Alvarado suggested that despite winning his filly may not have handled the Churchill Downs dirt oval very well. “When we turned for home, she switched leads and I knew I had plenty of horse, but when she got real close to the other horse (Afleeting Lady) she didn’t really want to go by her,” Alvarado said. “I always thought I had enough horse to get there by the wire, though. She’s a nice filly. She ran great last time and ran well again today.”
Arena Elvira has won seven of her last nine starts – including four in a row – and seven of 12 overall. She collected her first graded stakes win in her previous start, the Turnback the Alarm (GIII) at Aqueduct on Nov. 4.
"We’ve brought her along very conservatively, never running in graded stakes until the last couple of times,” Mott said. “But it’s gotten her there. She’s got her confidence up and she’s handled every challenge.”
Arena Elvira is a Kentucky-bred daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of the Twining mare Two Item Limit. The victory was worth $116,506 and increased Arena Elvira’s earnings to $391,436.
Sent to post as the even-money favorite, Arena Elvira, who carried 121 pounds, returned $4, $3 and $2.80. Afleeting Lady, who carried 116 pounds under Kent Desormeaux at odds of 13-1, returned $8 and $4.40 in finishing three lengths in front of It’s Tea Time, who paid $5.20 to show under Manny Cruz while tacking 116 pounds. Juanita, Super Espresso, Brushed by a Star, Secret File and Riviera Chic completed the order of finish. Spring Party and Ravi’s Song were scratched.
Mott, Churchill Downs’ all-time leader with 656 wins, is enjoying a dream Fall Meet beneath the Twin Spires. This was his fourth stakes win of the 21-day meeting. He also won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer; the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic with Royal Delta; and the Cardinal Handicap (GIII) with Deluxe. Overall, he leads all trainers with 84 local stakes wins, which is a dozen more than runner-up D. Wayne Lukas. This season, he boasts a record of 19-7-2-2—$4,144,208, which is good for a tie for fourth in the local trainer standings.
"It’s been good,” Mott said. “It’s not much fun when it doesn’t work out well, but it’s fun when it does work well.”
Arena Elvira also gave Mott his fourth win in the Falls City Handicap, one back of trainer Harvey Vanier’s record. Mott won the first division in 1985 with Donut’s Pride, the 1997 renewal with Feasibility Study and the 2000 edition with Bordelaise-ARG.
Racing resumes Friday with a 12-race program beginning at 12:40 p.m. (all times Eastern). Highlighting the card is the 137th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) that drew a field of 13. Post time for the Clark, the 11th race on the program, is 5:42 p.m.
FALLS CITY HANDICAP QUOTES
Bill Mott (by telephone from New York), trainer of Arena Elvira (winner): Q: You had a choice of staying at Aqueduct to run in the Go for Wand or ship here for the Falls City, and your decision worked out … “We looked like we’d be competitive in either spot, but this race was at the nine furlongs that she’s been running at. It worked out. Sometimes you get lucky. There was a plane coming on Tuesday, and it worked out well.”
Q: What is her future – will she run next year? “I would imagine. She’s only four. I guess she deserves a little bit of a break right now and we’ll bring her back later on. But she’s stepped up. We’ve brought her along very conservatively, never running in graded stakes until the last couple of times. But it’s gotten her there. She’s got her confidence up and she’s handled every challenge.”
Q: She had to fight today. It looked like she was going to run on by, then Afleeting Lady came back and she had to dig in again … “I thought it was good and the boy (jockey Junior Alvarado) rode her good. He made the right decision and went for the right spot leaving the quarter pole. When they were turning for home, he had a choice to make of who to try to get in between and he selected the right spot.”
Q: You’ve had a very good Fall Meet, with the two Breeders’ Cup wins and now this stakes win and a top five spot in the leading trainer standings …“It’s been good. It’s not much fun when it doesn’t work out well, but it’s fun when it does work well.”
Kenny McCarthy, assistant trainer to Bill Mott who trains Arena Elvira (winner): “We figured the five (Juanita) was the speed and thought we’d get a good comfortable spot with her. Certainly around the turn she looked like she was under a little pressure, but I thought once she straightened out in the lane and switched leads that she would really finish up. It was a little close at the end, but I think she proved her mettle at the end today.”
Q. What’s the upside for this filly? “She’s definitely going the right way, so the sky’s the limit.”
Q. This has definitely been a meet to remember, right? “Definitely. We kicked things off with Mr. (James) Karp’s filly (Anecdote) giving Mr. Mott his 650th win at Churchill Downs and we’ve just rolled since then.”
Junior Alvarado, rider of Arena Elvira (winner): “She was kind of bobbling throughout and not really handling the track. When we turned for home, she switched leads and I knew I had plenty of horse, but when she got real close to the other horse (Afleeting Lady) she didn’t really want to go by her. I always thought I had enough horse to get there by the wire, though. She’s a nice filly. She ran great last time and ran well again today.”
Dale Romans, trainer of Afleeting Lady (runner-up): “She’s doing good. She’s just been an improving mare all summer and fall, so she just keeps getting better and better.”
Q: What about that finish – she looked like she was beat and then she came back …“It looked like she was going to back way up, then she surged again. But she just couldn’t hold her off. That’s a good filly that beat her. I think she’s going to be tough next year.”
Kent Desormeaux, rider of Afleeting Lady (runner-up): “She’s still a little green, so I think there’s room for improvement, which is exciting, you know? She’ll gain some racing maturity from that race. The other one (winner Arena Elvira) had an edge in experience over her, and it looks like the light went on with the other one a long time ago. We’ll get her light turned on after today, hopefully.”
“Rusty” Arnold, trainer of It’s Tea Time (third): “I was happy with her race. She made a huge run around the turn. She might have hung a little bit, but I think that was because of the pace. I was pretty happy with it.”
Manny Cruz, rider of It’s Tea Time (third): “She ran a big race. We sat off the pace and she gave a lot to me in the end. The pace was a little slower than I hoped and that didn’t help me. Hopefully we’ll get a better pace next time.”