LEXINGTON, Ky. — Once-beaten Chez Pierre handed reigning champion turf male Modern Games a decisive thumping in the latter’s season debut at Keeneland on Friday in the $518,575 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).
Exiting his first career loss the Feb. 4 Tampa Bay (G3), in which he tired after being rather headstrong in his first outing in more than nine months, Chez Pierre was much more relaxed in the early stages of the Maker’s Mark Mile under Flavien Prat.
Sent off as the 9-1 fourth choice in a field of eight, Chez Pierre inherited the lead in the relatively paceless affair. Leading by a length or so entering the backstretch, Chez Pierre soon yielded to an early-moving Dr Zempf, who opened up a couple of lengths around the far turn.
Modern Games, who entered Friday’s one-mile heat undefeated in three previous trips to North America, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Woodbine Mile (G1) last fall, was unhurried in fourth down the backside under William Buick, but had some seven lengths to make up when coming under an aggressive ride approaching the quarter pole.
Re-rallying outside Dr Zempf in upper stretch, Chez Pierre kicked clear of that rival approaching the eighth pole and accelerated to a 3 1/2-length win. The final time of 1:33.46 on firm ground was a new stakes record.
Modern Games belatedly rallied for second by neck over 5-1 third choice Up to the Mark. Next under the wire was Cabo Spirit, Speaking Scout, Dr Kempf, Emmanuel, and In Love.
Owned by Lael Stables and trained by Arnaud Delacour, Chez Pierre returned $20.84.
The Maker’s Mark Mile was the first graded stakes win for Chez Pierre, who commenced his career in late 2020 in his native France. He was imported following three consecutive victories over six furlongs at Chantilly.
A neck winner of his U.S. debut in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance in March 2022, Chez Pierre turned heads with a 5 1/2-length romp in the Henry Clark S. at Laurel last April. However, lingering infirmities kept him out the rest of the season.
The 3-2 favorite in the Tampa Bay, Chez Pierre raced within a length or so of the lead until the final furlong, when he faded to sixth, four lengths behind Emmanuel.
“He was probably a little too fresh coming back. He needed the race, and he was too aggressive,” Delacour said. “I think he moved forward today because of his fitness.”
A five-year-old gelding by Mehmas, Chez Pierre was produced by Hortensia, an Orpen half-sister to Grade 3 winner Uraib. Hortensia has also produced the stakes-winning filly Zelda.
Earlier in the card, trainer Wesley Ward saddled Love Reigns and Lady Hollywood to a one-two finish in the $208,188 Limestone S., a 5 1/2-furlong turf dash for three-year-old fillies.
Making her first start since running eighth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint (G1) in November, Love Reigns was caught in traffic and was forced to steady in upper stretch, but found room on the inside to make a late lunge to defeat her stablemate by a half-length under Joel Rosario.
Owned by Stonestreet, Love Reigns covered the course in 1:02.45 and paid $7.38 as the favorite in a field of 12. Lady Hollywood’s margin was a half-length on third-place finisher My Sweet Affair.
An Irish-bred daughter of U S Navy Flag, Love Reigns has now won three of five starts. After romping by 9 3/4 lengths in her debut last April at Keeneland, Love Reigns finished fourth in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot. She preceded her Breeders’ Cup appearance with a victory in the Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga in August.
“She’s a special filly,” Ward said. “I’ve kind of been waiting for this to come out since her maiden win here. She likes Keeneland, she loved the course when she broke her maiden here a year ago, and we’re just real, real happy it worked out.”
Love Reigns is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Glorious Empire and was produced by Humble and Proud, a daughter of Pivotal.