LEXINGTON, Ky. — La Coronel should have her Keeneland routine down by now: run in a graded turf stakes, prevail in convincing fashion, and head to a jubilant winner’s circle celebration on the turf course.
That familiar scenario unfolded on a bright Saturday afternoon when La Coronel sped to the most important victory of her career by leading all the way in the 34th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, keeping her perfect in three Keeneland starts.
Jose Lezcano was aboard La Coronel for owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse.
“She loves Keeneland, that’s for sure,” Casse said afterward by phone from Ocala, Fla.
Daddys Lil Darling had every chance to get past La Coronel after racing just a few lengths off the leader, but she was a half-length short on the wire when another 3 1/2 lengths before Madam Dancealot in a field of 10 3-year-old fillies.
La Coronel returned $12.20 after finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.99 over firm going.
It had been a year and two days since La Coronel made her first career breakthrough, winning the Grade 3 Jessamine here on Oct. 12, 2016, in such a convincing manner to make her the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She was sixth in that race, and after a close defeat in her 2017 debut, her next race resulted in an explosive 3 1/4-length triumph in the Grade 3 Appalachian here in April.
Casse had expressed concern before the QE II that La Coronel had become “a nervous wreck” since returning to the U.S. following an overseas trip in June.
“She even seemed to get a little wound up today, even though we’ve done a lot of schooling with her,” he said. “But the good news is she still runs really fast. She’s such a nice horse. She’s always been one of our loves.”
Before a meet-high crowd of 29,636, La Coronel assumed early command without much urging, with New Money Honey, the 5-2 favorite, giving closest chase through the first turn and down the backstretch. In the final turn, La Coronel continued apace, while New Money Honey struggled to keep up and Daddys Lil Darling, a 9-1 shot under Robby Albarado, emerged as the obvious threat.
Down the stretch, Lezcano looked to maintain his advantage by keeping La Coronel to a steady drive, and the daughter of Colonel John held sway for her first Grade 1 victory and her fifth from 12 overall starts. She now has earned $754,844 for Oxley, who paid $375,000 for her at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s 2-year-old in training sale in April 2016.
“She was comfortable the whole way around,” said Lezcano, the New York-based star whose eight prior graded stakes triumphs at Keeneland included two on turf aboard Wise Dan, the two-time Horse of the Year (2012-13), and a win here Friday aboard Morticia in the Grade 3 Franklin County.
After the top three, the full QE II order was Uni, Beau Recall, New Money Honey, Dream Dancing, Proctor’s Ledge, Con Te Partiro, and Unforgetable Filly. Wuheida was an early scratch from an original cast of 11.
The win gives Oxley and Casse a pair of Grade 1-winning 3-year-old turf fillies this year, with Dream Dancing having captured the Del Mar Oaks this summer for the owner-trainer team. Oxley indicated that neither is likely to run back in three weeks in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar.
The $2 exacta (6-3) paid $121, the $1 trifecta (6-3-8) returned $1,262.20, and the 10-cent superfecta (6-3-8-10) was worth $1,033.53.
The QE II was the sixth and last Grade 1 race at the 17-day fall meet, which runs through Oct. 28.