Honey Hues, a 13-1 longshot ridden by Jesus Castanon, tracked the pace set by Maid On a Mission before she moved to the front on the far turn and then held off a late charge by I’m Already Sexy to score a three-quarter length victory in Saturday’s 38th running of the Grade III, $110,400 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap for fillies and mares ages three and up on the turf on at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes, who is trained by co-owner and Churchill Downs-based veteran Bernie Flint, covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:41.75 on firm turf and paid $29.60, $10.40 and $6.40. I’m Already Sexy, the 5-2 second betting choice ridden by Miguel Mena, paid $5 and $3.40. Maid On a Mission, who grabbed the lead from the outside post in the field of eight, held well to finish third under jockey Marcelino Pedroza and returned $8.60 to show.
The victory made amends for a disappointing ninth-place finish by Honey Hues on May 17 in the $65,000 Keertana Overnight Stakes at 1 3/8 miles on the Churchill Downs turf. Flint said Saturday’s distance was a much better fit for his mare.
“She didn’t really surprise me – she’s a hard-trying mare,” Flint said. “I was just hoping she’d win and she does that quite a bit, so I’m very proud of her. She brought it home again for me, so I’m tickled with that.”
The victory was third in five 2014 races for the versatile Honey Hues, who runs on both grass and dirt and is co-owned by L.T.B Inc. of Terri and Bernie Flint and longtime partner Miles Childers. She improved her career record to 9-4-1 in 20 races and the winner’s purse of $66,395 pushed the career earnings for Honey Hues to $295.058.
Six of Honey Hues’ wins have come on dirt courses. The Early Times Mint Julep victory improved her record on grass to 3-0-1 in seven races.
Favored Miz Ida, who won the 2013 running of the Early Times Mint Julep and was the 6-5 favorite to earn a repeat victory on Saturday, encountered traffic problems under jockey Corey Lanerie and finished fifth, 5 ¼ lengths back of Honey Hues. Lanerie said Miz Ida was distracted by a temporary rail positioned on the inner portion of the grass course for Saturday’s races. The rail enables the track’s maintenance team to utilize different areas of the grass course for racing and avoid uneven wear from racing and training.
"She kept shying from it and she wasn’t that close to it,” Lanerie said. “It cost us some lengths, and then I tried to hit a hole at the top of the lane and it just closed. It was a disastrous trip. It wasn’t my best ride.”
Maid On a Mission broke sharply from the outside post in the field of eight and rushed to the early lead, while Honey Hues settled inside and stalked the pace. I’m Already Sexy was positioned by Mena in third, just outside the leaders, while the favored Miz Ida broke slowly and trailed the field on the inside through three-quarters of a mile. Castanon swung the eventual winner outside of the pacesetter on the far turn, passed Maid On a Mission and quickly opened a clear lead in upper stretch. I’m Already Sexy launched a rally outside of the top pair, while Miz Ida encountered bumping when Lanerie tried to swing her to the outside for the run through the stretch. I’m Already Sexy took aim on Honey Hues in the upper stretch, but drifted in and out through the remainder of the drive and never posed a serious threat to pass the eventual winner in the final yards.
Embarr finished fourth and was followed past the finish by Miz Ida, Tapit’s World, Hot Tempo and Enchanting Lisa.
EARLY TIMES MINT JULEP QUOTES
BERNIE FLINT, trainer and co-owner of HONEY HUES (winner)
“She didn’t really surprise me – she’s a hard-trying mare. She’s a great mare running on the dirt and she has run well on the grass here, too. She’s kind of favored toward this grass. She likes it and she’s run well over it. I know she does well over an off track, too, so I didn’t know whether to hope for an off track or grass. I was just hoping she’d win and she does that quite a bit, so I’m very proud of her. She brought it home again for me, so I’m tickled with that.”
Q: The runner-up looked like she had dead-aim on her, but Honey Hues wouldn’t let her go by …
“I tried her going a mile and three-eighths (in the Keertana Overnight Stakes), and that’s just too far for her. She can’t do it. She’s a big stocky mare, and tall and muscular. It’s just too hard on her going that far. But she came out of her race really good. I like the grass – I like it as much as anyone. And it’s an excellent course.”
JESUS CASTANON, jockey on HONEY HUES (winner)
“When Bernie told me she was going in the stake, I really thought we had a good chance. Her last race (in the Keertana) was a mile and three-eighths, which was a bit long. He said the mare was doing so good, so he was going to try her here.”
Q: I’m Already Sexy looked for a moment like she might run past you, but your mare wouldn’t give in …
“When I saw the horse on the outside (#8 Maid On a Mission) go for the lead, it kind of forced us to go up in there (along the rail). I let my filly sit right off of the pace and my horse was able to sit there a little longer before the stretch run.”
MIGUEL MENA, jockey on I’M ALREADY SEXY (runner-up)
“We kind of had a rough trip. We were stuck between horses the whole way and got bounced around a lot of the way. She got knocked off her game a little bit, but she ran well.”
COREY LANERIE, jockey on favored MIZ IDA (fifth as the 6-5 favorite)
“She kept jumping from the temporary rail. It comes out in points and I told the guys (on the track crew) that they need to fix that. She kept shying from it and she wasn’t that close to it. It cost us some lengths, and then I tried to hit a hole at the top of the lane and it just closed. It was a disastrous trip. It wasn’t my best ride.”