Craig D. Upham’s homebred Patrona Margarita was sent off at 23-1 in Saturday’s $200,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, but ran like a favorite when drawing off to a 3 3/4-length victory under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
The race is not only a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Del Mar on November 4, but also awarded the first points (10-4-2-1) toward a starting berth in the 2018 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs next May 4.
Patrona Margarita raced in midpack early as Primo Extremo, the second longest shot on the board at 39-1, led the way up front for the opening six furlongs in :23.68, :48.83 and 1:14.45. The Bret Calhoun trainee found herself three wide rounding the first turn and stayed on the outside down the backstretch while gradually drawing closer to the front.
Primo Extremo was tracked by Vision of Justice to her outside, and that one ranged up to challenge nearing the final turn. Sunny Skies followed and appearing on the far outside was Patrona Margarita, who exited the bend five wide. She grabbed command and angled over to the rail in midstretch while pulling off to finish 1 1/16 miles over the fast dirt in 1:46.35.
Sent off the 23-1 ninth choice in the 12-strong field, Patrona Margarita paid $49.60 for the win. Kelly’s Hunter got up to stick her neck in front of Sunny Skies on the wire for second, while Primo Extremo took fourth by 1 3/4 lengths over Upset Brewing.
Completing the order of finish were Sultry, Harbor Lights, Firstmate, 3-1 favorite Snowfire, Take Charge Paula, Vision of Justice and Lady Freedom.
Patrona Margarita is now 4-2-0-1, $150,253, in her career. The juvenile daughter of Special Rate captured her 4 1/2-furlong maiden debut by a half-length on June 9 under the Twin Spires, but didn’t take to the sloppy, sealed surface when eighth in the Debutante Stakes three weeks later on June 30. The Texas-bred dark bay miss entered this spot off a neck third in the filly division of the Texas Thoroughbred Futurity at Lone Star Park on July 22.
Patrona Margarita is out of the winning Naevus mare Margarita Mistress, making her a half-sister to multiple Grade 3-scoring millionaire Texas Chrome. Her fifth dam is dual Italian champion Carnauba, and this female family also boasts champion and successful sire Midshipman.
Bret Calhoun, trainer Patrona Margarita, winner
“What a rollercoaster-day. It’s a tough when you think back on what could have been winning two stakes (Calhoun-trained Mayla was disqualified from first to sixth in the Open Mind for interference in the stretch-run) but we are happy to win the Pocahontas. She’s not Breeders’ Cup eligible so we’ll probably point towards the (October 6) Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland.
“After breaking her maiden over this track we tried her in the Debutante and she got stopped badly. She’s a Texas-bred so we sent her to Lone Star for the Texas Futurity and she ran a solid third. She’s not a sprinter so we knew she’d improve as the distances got longer. She’s trained phenomenally over this racetrack recently and I’m happy to see everything come together.”
Brian Hernandez Jr., jockey Patrona Margarita, winner
“Her works have been really impressive over this racetrack. She really stepped up today and showed us what she’s made of. We tracked the speed just behind horses. With two-year-olds you never know how they will respond passing horses and you have to feel good the way she was able to win this race today.”
Craig Upham, owner/breeder Patrona Margarita, winner
“I’m so happy for her effort this afternoon. I bred her which makes things even more special. Bret (Calhoun) and his entire team do such a phenomenal job. With her breeding we always thought she’d do well going around two turns. It’s special to be on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Oaks’ trail. Our horse will tell us where to send her next. I just hope she comes out of the race happy and healthy.”
Brad Cox, trainer Kelly’s Humor, second
“Given our (outside) post and a wide trip – and they didn’t go as fast up front as I thought they would – it was overall a solid effort. I’m real pleased and hopefully it’s something we can build on. I don’t know where we’ll go next, but it’ll be a graded stakes somewhere.”
She was a little antsy behind the starting gate before she loaded. Were you surprised by that?
“Yeah, I was probably surprised that she was that antsy, but she’s a young horse and still figuring things out. I think we can improve off this.”
Shaun Bridgmohan, jockey Kelly’s Humor, second
“I thought she ran good. She ran hard. She’s a really nice filly and I think we haven’t seen the best of her yet.”
It was a little eventful behind the starting gate before the race.
“She’s still in the learning process and hasn’t quite figure out her job, but she keeps getting better and better so, hopefully, we have a lot to build on.”
Kenny McPeek, trainer Sunny Skies, third
“It was a good solid race and she’s a good solid filly. We were talking about options on the way back with (jockey) Robby (Albarado) and maybe we’ll try her on the grass over at Keeneland. We’ve been kind of planning towards fall with her, but she ran well and it was a good solid race. She puts out every time and it’s no disgrace.”
McPeek on Ten City’s third in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) one race earlier.
“For some reason he just kind of hopped out of the gate. I don’t know what that’s about. He’s done it a couple of races in a row. But he’s fighting back and he’s a nice horse. He was really, really wide on the second turn.”
Robby Albarado, jockey Sunny Skies, third
“I thought she ran well. Turning for home I was in the proper position, the proper spot, but I have to congratulate the winner, who ran by me with authority. We didn’t offer a much of a fight when she (Patrona Margarita) ran by me. She’s a nice little filly. But my filly ran well. She’s consistent. She’s nice. We may try to go in a different direction with her. Turf might be an option.”