Cristina’s Journey remained perfect in two starts with a dominant gate-to-wire victory by 2 ¼ lengths over Pangburn in Saturday’s 46th running of the $231,000 Pocahontas (Grade II) for 2-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Miguel Mena, Cristina’s Journey, owned by Tim Newcomer’s GSN Stable, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.37 on a fast track and gave trainer Dale Romans, a Louisville native, his 40th Churchill Downs stakes win.
Cristina’s Journey opened a clear lead from the start and dictated the pace through fractions of :24.19, :48.63, 1:13.91 and 1:39.83. She was collared by True to You at the half mile marker, but she repulsed the challenge and shook clear down the stretch for the convincing win.
Cristina’s Journey, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Any Given Saturday out of the Dixie Union mare, banked $136,059 for the win. Additionally, the Pocahontas is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series, which means Cristina’s Journey has secured a starting spot and $10,000 travel stipend to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Cristina’s Journey also is the early points-leader on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks after collecting 10 points. The Pocahontas was the first of 31 qualifying races to the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) to be run next May, and points were awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Cristina’s Journey paid $9, $5.20 and $4 as the 7-2 second betting choice. Pangburn returned $6 and $4.80. Milehighbutterfly was another 2 ½ lengths back in third and paid $15. The strung-out field was completed by Loom, 3-2 favorite Take Charge Brandi, True to You, Phoenix Park, Frolic to the Wire, Queen’s Ready and Rachel’s Ready.
Cristina’s Journey entered the Pocahontas off a 4 ¼-length debut win over six furlongs at Ellis Park on July 27. The $37,000 yearling purchase exits a Grade II winner.
DALE ROMANS, trainer of Cristina’s Journey (first): “She’s a very good filly. She was pressed today and she drew off clear and looked good to me. I was hoping for an effort like her last one. I try to stay positive and when (partner) Tammy (Fox) worked her the other day she said she’d improved since her first race. A bunch of fillies were kind of the same. I’m sure everybody liked their filly but you don’t know until you line them up and she ran the way we were hoping.”
On owner Tim Newcomer: “Tim’s a good man. He owns a little piece of Silver Max and he’s been around the game awhile. He’s enthusiastic and loves the game so it’s been fun and he’s had some good success.”
On if she runs back before the Breeders’ Cup: “I don’t know. There’s the Alcibiades sitting there but we’ll just have to see how she’s doing and let her tell me what we need to do. I don’t think she has to though. I think she’s the type of horse who could train right into a big race like that.”
MIGUEL MENA, jockey of Cristina’s Journey (winner): “This filly has tactical speed. She won on the lead at Ellis. She broke sharp and the instructions were to just make the lead; if somebody goes crazy then maybe she’s OK to start in second. But she broke well and had a nice steady pace; she was comfortable. Then when the rest of the field started to catch up at the quarter pole, I let her pick it up a little bit. When I hit her at the eighth pole, she picked it up and we won pretty easy. She’s pretty awesome; she wins at Ellis by almost five and then she beat this bunch easy. Like I said, I hit her a couple of times at the eighth pole and I felt her just pick it up right away and she galloped out strong. I think she’s great but we’ll see how good she is when we go to the Breeders’ Cup I guess.”
KENNY MCPEEK, trainer of Pangburn (runner-up): “She’s acted all class from the beginning. She’s always done everything right and she wants to go all day long so let’s keep our fingers crossed between now and spring.”
Concern on surface change: “Yeah, she needed to learn to take some dirt in her face. She was real green on her leads today. I’m going to watch a replay and see what we can do to improve that.”
Next start?: “Maybe the Alicibides. I’ll talk to Mr. Anthony and we’ll discuss it.”
JOEL ROSARIO, jockey of Pangburn (second): “Good trip. I thought the horse would take a little time to really get going, and after she did, she found it in herself. Turning for home, I think she used herself a little too much, but she’s learning. I think she will be better in the future.”