A brief freshening and a perfect stalking trip was the winning formula for 4-year-old filly Strike Charmer, who easily beat 13 rivals in Saturday’s 41st running of the $119,700 Cardinal Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.

Strike Charmer, ridden by Chris Landeros, ran 1 1/8 miles over a Matt Winn Turf Course that was rated “good” in 1:49.97 to defeat Pappascat by two lengths. Anotnia Autumn was another 1 ¼ lengths back in third.

Campaigned by owner/breeder Don Adam’s Courtlandt Farms, Strike Charmer provided veteran trainer David Carroll with a much-needed graded stakes win – his first since Acoma won the Spinster (GI) at Keeneland in 2010. Carroll entered the Cardinal with 11 wins and earnings of $441,957 from 81 starters on the year – his lowest annual win total since he won with 11-of-91 starters in 1996.

“It’s been a tough year,” Carroll said. “Mr. Adam has been a good, patient owner. We really needed that.”

I’m Already Sexy, the 8-5 favorite who most recently finish fifth in the $200,750 Goldikova (GII) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita, broke quick from the gate and opened up a long lead on the field of 14 fillies and mares through fractions of :23.82, :47.69 and 1:13.00. Strike Charmer was tucked away in fourth before taking command in the stretch and drawing away from the field.

This was the first stakes win for Strike Charmer and her third overall in 10 starts. The $67,535 winner’s share of the purse pushed her career earnings to $206,535.

Strike Charmer, a Smart Strike filly out of the Storm Cat mare Cat Charmer, paid $26.60, $10.80 and $7.20 at odds of 12-1. Pappascat, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., returned $16.80 and $11.20. Anotnia Autumn, with Rafael Hernandez up, paid $26.60.

I’m Already Sexy, Nellie Cashman, Keening, Bitty Kitty, Northern Passion, Rosee Is Cozee, Annabird, Royal Fury, Angegreen-ITY, Honey Lake and Street of Gold completed the order of finish. Frivolous and Imposing Grace were scratched.

Strike Charmer, a Kentucky-bred, had 70 days between starts. In her previous start on Sept. 13, I’m Already Sexy prevailed by three lengths in the $197,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf leading every step of the way with Strike Charmer finishing second.

Strike Charmer gave Carroll his second Cardinal Handicap triumph. He won the race in 2008 with Acoma. Overall, it was his seventh stakes win at Churchill Downs and 17th career graded stakes victory.

For Landeros, it was his third graded stakes win. He won the 2011 John B. Connelly Turf Handicap (GIII) at Sam Houston aboard Schramsberg and this year’s Bourbon (GIII) at Keeneland aboard Lawn Ranger. During the Spring Meet, Landeros won the Keertana, an overnight stakes, aboard Praia.

Racing at Churchill Downs resumes Sunday with a 10-race program that begins at 12:40 p.m. ET.

CARDINAL HANDICAP QUOTES

DAVID CARROLL, trainer of STRIKE CHARMER (winner): “It’s been a tough year. Mr. (Don) Adam has been a good, patient owner. We really needed that. (After her last race on Sept. 13), we put her away and got her ready for the Cardinal. That’s what we did so I’ve got to give (Mr. Adam) a lot of credit because I would have run her at Keeneland. She was feeling so good over the last month. I got a terrific ride from Chris (Landeros). I’m so happy for Chris because he does a lot of work for us here at the barn. Hopefully this is a sign that things will get a lot better.”

CHRIS LANDEROS, jockey of STRIKE CHARMER (winner): “I’ve got to give Dave (Carroll) a lot of the credit. The way she’s been training and the way she presented herself today, gosh, that’s what separates the good ones from the mediocre ones. It was a blessing to get on her. She was very impressive today. Everything she did was 110-percent. (The race unfolded) just the way I needed it to. I got a little split when I needed it to. It was just a great trip. When you have the horse, it makes your job a lot easier.”

GARRY SIMMS (via telephone), trainer of PAPPASCAT (runner-up): “We always knew she was a pretty decent filly and we’ve tried to walk her up the ladder. She’s always kind of liked Churchill Downs and maybe us having to walk a couple of days (because of a frozen track closed to training) took care of my training.”

RICARDO SANTANA JR., jockey on PAPPASCAT (runner-up): “She had a clear trip, no trouble. She tried. She’s a nice filly.  Turning for home she was running well and she might have a chance to win. She finished well.”

BEN COLEBROOK, trainer of ANTONIA AUTUMN (third): “I kind of thought she was going to run well, but in a tough race like that you never really know. But I thought she’d make a good account of herself; she’s been training very well. I haven’t had her very long.  (Trainer) Christophe (Clement) had her and had done most of the heavy lifting for me already. Basically my job was easy. I just had to keep her happy, just get her over here in one piece and run her.”

Q: When did she join you stable? “I got her in at the end of September.”

Q: How about her journey?  Did she have any problems? “She had a very good trip. Rafael (Hernandez) rode her very well. He was able to save a little bit of ground going into the first turn and he got here out in the clear on the second turn. She had clear sailing down the stretch and at one point I thought she might get there for second, but she ran out of real estate.  The winner was much the best today.

“It was huge for her to get the black type, because she’s a half to Gio Ponti. That’s the important thing. Now she’s Grade III-placed and she’s worth a lot of money as a broodmare.”

CALVIN BOREL, rider of I’M ALREADY SEXY (fourth as the favorite): “I was where I wanted to be, but she was a little aggressive. She hadn’t trained in a while and she was just a little keen. She was doing it easy, but not my kind of easy. She was pulling on me and tuggin’ on me, and that takes a little bit out of a horse, I think. Other than that, she broke good and I was comfortable with her speed, but she was just a little aggressive.”

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