Roca Rojo (Strategic Prince), second from the right, wins the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs on 5.6.2017. Florent Geroux up, Chad Brown trainer, Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables and Bradley Thoroughbreds owners.
Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables, and Bradley Thoroughbreds’ well-favored Roca Rojo was declared the winner via photo finish in Saturday’s Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, getting her nose down on the line to win by a head over Believe in Bertie. A 5-year-old daughter of Strategic Prince, Roca Rojo and jockey Florent Geroux stopped the clock for a mile on the “good” turf in 1:37.53 to give trainer Chad Brown a graded stakes double early on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
“She’s been training really well,” Brown said. “We knew she could handle the soft going. She’s equally as good on firm. We were a little concerned about the pace and it played out that way. It was a soft pace with a very good horse setting the fractions, a really solid horse. She had her work cut out for her to run her down. We’ll look at the Just a Game (GI), that makes a lot of sense, in five weeks at a mile at Belmont.”
Believe in Bertie, a multiple stakes-winning Louisiana-bred, jumped very well out of the starting gate and appeared to be relishing the rain-soaked turf course as she took the lead under Shaun Bridgmohan. Geroux kept Roca Rojo right on her tail as the leader galloped through a first quarter mile in a pedestrian 25.23 seconds, and Mississippi Delta and Hillhouse High moved together in third position behind the favorite. Linda, third-choice on the tote board, traveled off the early pace
Down the backstretch Believe in Bertie drew out to a two-length lead under a bit of a hold from Bridgmohan, but Geroux never worried aboard Roca Rojo. The whole field was well off the hedge; Churchill’s turf course is slanted toward the inside rail, so the softest part of the course would be right at the hedge where the water has gravitated downward.
Roca Rojo began to close the gap on the leader, encouraging her to pick up the pace and clock the half-mile in :49.20. Believe in Bertie’s advantage was down to just one length at the quarter pole, and turning for home the two leaders were on even terms. Linda had to make her move around the outside, covering more ground than either of the leaders, but was just two lengths behind at the head of the lane.
It looked as though Believe in Bertie would fold quickly and allow Roca Rojo to gallop on by, but the slow first quarter had left the frontrunner with enough in reserve to battle back against the favorite. The two were locked together, stride-for-stride down the lane, neither able to make up any ground on the other. In the final 50 yards, Roca Rojo inched forward just slightly, but she was still exchanging the lead on every stride with Believe in Bertie as the crossed under the wire.
“I was right off the leader; my filly was closer than she usually is,” Geroux explained. “She likes to sit back and make one run, but there was a lack of pace in the race. I decided to put her closer and make sure I wasn’t going to be trapped behind. Down the stretch, I thought I had it pretty easily, but the other filly tried to come back at her. My filly was the best.”
A photo finish revealed that Roca Rojo had gotten her head down first at the wire, so Believe in Bertie would have to settle for a valiant second. Linda couldn’t make up any ground on the leaders after those slow early fractions, and wound up crossing the wire in third.
Bred in Ireland by Mr. Tommy Murphy, Roca Rojo began her career with back-to-back wins in her home country. Purchased and brought to the United States by her current connections, the filly earned a pair of allowance victories before recording her first graded stakes win, then, most recently, finished second to Miss Temple City in the G1 Matriarch. Overall, Roca Rojo has won six of her eight starts, earning over $ 420,000.
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