Craig B Singer’s Salty Strike took the lead approaching the top of the stretch and drew away to an emphatic 3 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s 37th running of $109,300 Grade III Dogwood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s heavily favored Might, a full sister to 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame who left the starting gate as the odds-on choice at 4-5, faded to fifth in the Dogwood field that was reduced to six fillies by the late scratches of Juanita and Henny’s Hurricane.
Ridden by Manny Cruz, who scored his first career stakes victory at Churchill Downs, Salty Strike started a sweep for trainer Ken McPeek of the two Grade III stakes races offered by the historic track on Saturday. McPeek also won the $110,300 Aristides with Noble’s Promise.
The 5-1 third choice in the Dogwood, Salty Strike scored her first career stakes victory and won for the third time in four career starts at Churchill Downs as she returned mutuels of $12.80, $4.80 and $3.20. IEAH Stable’s Fantasy of Flight, making only her second career start under jockey Robby Albarado, finished second and returned $4.60 and $3.20. Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Gran Lioness held well under Jamie Theriot to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up in third and paid $3.60 to show.
The victory by Salty Strike improved the career record of the homebred daughter of Smart Strike to 3-1-1 in seven races and the winner’s purse of $67,090 boosted her career earnings to $152,492. She completed the one mile distance over a fast track in 1:35.39.
Salty Strike’s only loss at Churchill Downs came in a close third-place finish to Just Louise in last year’s $100,000 Grade III Debutante Stakes in early July. McPeek’s filly fractured a cannon bone in that race and did not return to competition until mid-February. Salty Strike was coming off a seven-length victory in a May 20 allowance race at Churchill Downs that was her first win since a successful racing debut at the same track just over a year earlier.
“She has really come around,” McPeek said. “I’d like to keep her sprinting on the dirt. I think we will look at sending her to the (Grade I) Test at Saratoga.”
Fantasy of Flight, coming off an impressive victory in her career debut during Kentucky Derby Week, shot to the lead when the starting gates open and held a two-length advantage down the backstretch over Gran Lioness, Salty Strike and the favored Might. Cruz turned Salty Strike loose on the far turn and she made a quick three-wide move to grab the lead and quickly drew clear as the rest of the strung out field gave chase down the stretch.
Might, a winner of two of three starts for trainer Al Stall Jr. prior to her stakes debut in the Dogwood, made a mild rally under Julien Leparoux near the top of the stretch, but faltered in the drive and was beaten by nearly six lengths.
“Julien said she was traveling fine down the backside and just didn’t go on,” Stall said. “She didn’t seem to be the worse for wear when I watched her jog back and walk off. So, I don’t know. She has no excuses as far as I can see right now.”
Angelica Zapata finished fourth, and was followed by Might and Holy Heavens.
DOGWOOD STAKES QUOTES
Manny Cruz, rider of Salty Strike (winner)
“This is my first stakes win at Churchill Downs. I hope this is just the first of many more to come.
“She (Salty Strike) sat perfectly in the race. I took her outside because I knew I had a ton of horse and I didn’t want to take any chances. When I asked her to move, she responded and broke away from the group.”
Ken McPeek, trainer of Salty Strike (winner)
“She (Salty Strike) has really come around. She was injured here in the Debutante last year (stress fracture to cannon bone), but we got that fixed and she was able to come back this year. She wasn’t herself in the race at Oaklawn (Honeybee (GIII)) and then she really didn’t like the Polytrack at Keeneland.”
“We took her off Lasix for her last start and she really responded and so we didn’t put her on Lasix again today. She doesn’t need it, it seems to dull her out, and we especially didn’t want to put her on it with the heat today.”
“I’d like to keep her sprinting on the dirt. I think we will look at sending her to the Test (GI) at Saratoga.”
Robby Albarado, rider of Fantasy of Flight (runner-up)
“She ran a huge race. She just couldn’t hold off the winner. That winner is a really good filly – I’ve ridden her before. So it’s no shame to finish second to her off just one race. My horse ran a big race and looks like she has a really bright future.”
Julien Leparoux, rider of Might (fifth as the favorite)
“We got a very good spot, but she just never picked it up for me at the end. I don’t know. She felt real good all the way around. It seemed like I had plenty of horse underneath me.”
Q: At what point did you think you were in trouble?
“When I asked her to accelerate on the turn, around the quarter pole. I asked her, and she didn’t really kick.”
Al Stall Jr., trainer of Might (fifth as the favorite)
“Julien said she was traveling fine down the backside and just didn’t go on. He didn’t alert us to any problems and she came back fine, it seemed like. So I really don’t know right now. She didn’t seem to be the worse for wear when I watched her jog back and walk off. So, I don’t know. She has no excuses as far as I can see right now.”