Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s Four Gifts overhauled favored Just Jenda to win the $113,300 Eight Belles (Grade III) for 3-year-old fillies by three lengths on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
The race was formerly known as the La Troienne but changed this year to honor Eight Belles, the ill-fated runner-up to Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby who suffered a fatal injury a quarter-mile past the finish of that race.
Ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, Four Gifts gave the Heiligbrodt Stable and trainer Steve Asmussen their second victory in the race with the other score coming in 2002 with Cashier’s Dream.
Auspicious, another Asmussen trainee, and Lady Laughter led the field of eight down the backside through the first quarter-mile in :23.34 with Just Jenda and Four Gifts sitting in a stalking position.
Lady Laughter disposed of Auspicious leaving the backstretch, but was soon challenged by Just Jenda, who swooped to the lead turning for home with Four Gifts right behind. Bridgmohan swung Four Gifts out at the eighth pole and drew clear for her fourth victory in nine starts.
Four Gifts, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Even the Score out of the Service Stripe mare Agiftfromservice, covered the 7 ½ furlongs on a “sloppy” main track in 1:30.94. The victory was worth $68,139 and increased Four Gifts’ earnings to $483,168.
Four Gifts returned payoffs of $9.60, $4.20 and $3. Just Jenda, owned by Cindy Jones and trained by her husband Larry Jones who trained Eight Belles, paid $3.40 and $2.80 under Gabriel Saez. The Jones-trained Warrior Maid took third another two lengths back under John Velazquez and paid $5 to show.
EIGHT BELLES QUOTES
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN (rider of winner Four Gifts) – “I had a phenomenal trip. She settle really nice behind. She did everything I wanted her to do. The speed set up very good. I was able to watch the horse (Just Jenda) that I wanted to watch and got her on the outside of me. I just got her in the right spot that I though she needed to be, and the rest was up to her and she did it. She ran a really nice race for me.
“At the top of the stretch, I even thought about splitting (Just Jenda), and then Gabe (Saez) went to the right and drifted in a bit. So I had to alter course. Once I got on the outside of her, she just accelerated went on about her business along pretty nice.”
STEVE ASMUSSEN (trainer of winner Four Gifts) -- “I think the distance is the key with her. She’s been a very special filly, seven-eighths to a mile. I think the prep for the Fair Grounds Oaks, she ran a good race, but it put it in your head that that might have been a step too far because she made a great punch and then just backed up the last sixteenth.
“I think the off track and the company in the Fair Grounds Oaks definitely solidified what we need to do with her. I thought this was an ideal spot for her timing-wise as well as all the experience she had backing into it.
“The major targets for her going forward are the Acorn and the Test.”
GABRIEL SAEZ (rider of second-place finisher Just Jenda) – “That winner -- she was tracking me. I knew she was there, but we couldn’t stop her. My filly handled the track well and she ran hard. We just had to settle for second today.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ (rider of third-place finisher Warrior Maid) – “Perfect trip; good run from my filly. Can’t ask for much more than that. She tried hard.”