Benner Island (Speightstown) wins the Eight Belles (G2) at Churchill Downs on 5.5.2017. Javier Castellano up, Brad Cox trainer Shortleaf Stable owner.
John Ed Anthony’s Benner Island just held off the late charge of Union Strike to win Friday’s Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes at Churchill Downs, then survived a steward’s inquiry to hang onto the win by a nose at the wire. A 3-year-old daughter of Speightstown, Benner Island and Javier Castellano covered seven furlongs over the sloppy main track in 1:24.28 for trainer Brad Cox. The Eight Belles is the filly’s first graded stakes victory, and the win gave both trainer and jockey their second consecutive win on the card.
“The track is a little speed favoring and I used my horse a little bit early to put her in a good position, especially considering the race was seven-eighths (of a mile),” said Castellano. “She fought very hard down the stretch and I know once I was past the wire that I was confident she stayed in her path.”
Benner Island broke fairly well in the 14-filly field, and Castellano sent her from her rail post position to take the lead at the first point of call. She was just a half-length in front of Lovely Bernadette through solid fractions of :22.54 and :45.78, chased by What What What and Florida Fabulous, then Cajun Delta Dawn wide in fifth. Union Strike was near-last early in a relatively compact field, and Castellano began winding her up the rail through the far turn to give her a chance at the frontrunner at the head of the lane.
Moving away from Lovely Bernadette, Benner Island had a strong one-length advantage at the top of the stretch, but both Golden Mischief and Union Strike appeared full of run. Castellano and Benner Island appeared to drift a bit toward the rail at the three-sixteenths pole, blocking the lane for Union Strike but never causing that filly to loose stride. Golden Mischief put in a good bid but tired late. Union Strike re-routed to go around Golden Mischief, threatening Benner Island just up to the wire but falling short in a photo finish.
Under the finish line it was Benner Island a nose in front of Union Strike, and the former survived a jockey’s objection after the stewards chose to take no action regarding the movements at the three-sixteenths pole. Laney got up for third over Golden Mischief.
“She was taking Javier (Castellano) up the backside and when I saw the 22 and change (for the first quarter-mile) I didn’t mind that, but when I saw 45 and change (for the half-mile) I didn’t like that,” Cox said. “But, honestly, turning for home I thought she would back up on the fractions. Knowing the filly, I knew she would fight and was fit. She’s running back on three weeks and had two solid works since. It was a big effort and a great job. The Acorn (GI on June 10 at Belmont Park) would be ideal for her next, but we’ll let her tell us. Hopefully Javier can stay on her. She hasn’t had a tough campaign, but she’s been running steady for three months, so we’ll see how she comes out. I think one turn is what she is best at and I think she proved that when she flattened in the Fantasy (GIII) after ranging up.”
Bred in Kentucky by Mercedes Stables, Benner Island was a $ 200,000 Keeneland September Yearling sale purchase. The filly broke her maiden at first asking, the earned a stakes placing in her second start over the synthetic surface at Arlington. Her best finish as a 3-year-old prior to Friday’s race was a second in the G3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but shortened up to one-turn, she appears to have found her niche. Overall, Benner Island boasts a record of three wins and two seconds from eight starts, with earnings of over $ 240,000.
“This is awesome,” Cox continued, expressing delight at winning back-to-back graded stakes races. “Growing up two blocks outside the back gate, this is my home. I don’t know if it’s hit me yet. Green Mask showed up today and finally got it done and then this filly. We expected her to run big today.”
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