December 3, 2023

Dalika heads Cardinal, Played Hard tops Falls City on Churchill’s Thanksgiving card

Dailka wins the Beverly D. Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Two stakes for fillies and mares will serve as the centerpiece for Churchill Downs’ Thanksgiving Day card on Thursday: the $300,000 Cardinal S. (G3) on the turf and the $500,000 Falls City S. (G3) on the main track, both over nine furlongs.

Dalika, who produced a mild upset win in the Beverly D. (G1) in August, is the mare to beat in the Cardinal. The Al Stall trainee followed up that score with a Grade 3 win at Kentucky Downs, but was a faltering sixth in a Breeders’ Cup undercard stakes at Keeneland earlier this month.

Godolphin homebred Adventuring led throughout to take the Ladies Marathon (G3) at Kentucky Downs two back, and turned in another solid effort when placed fourth in the E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine, a race in which she dueled through slow fractions.

The field of 10 also includes stakes winner Pass the Plate and Sunny One, both of whom exit allowance wins over the turf during the Keeneland fall meet.

The Falls City field of six is headed by early 4-5 favorite Played Hard, a dominating 5 3/4-length winner of the Locust Grove S. at Churchill in mid-September. The Phil Bauer trainee was outclassed in last month’s Spinster (G1), finishing more than eight lengths behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Malathaat, but looms as the one to beat on the drop in class.

Grade 3 veteran Leader of the Band, second best to Search Results in the Molly Pitcher (G3) in July, subsequently defeated two-time Falls City winner Envoutante in the restricted Summer Colony S. at Saratoga. Leader of the Band most recently was upset in the Plum Pretty S., a Pennsylvania-bred stakes at Parx, after a wide trip.

She’s All Wolfe and Ava’s Grace ran one-two in the June 4 Shawnee S. at Churchill, but have been inconsistent at times in open stakes company. Grade 3-placed Moon Swag returned from a 56-week layoff last month to win a second-level allowance at Keeneland, while California invader Bellamore‘s three career wins have come on either turf or Tapeta.