A late, wide run down the middle of the track and a final bob of the head brought long shot California Angel (17-1) a thrilling victory Thursday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, the last North American qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup.
Trained by George Leonard III and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the 2-year-old by California Chrome got the better of the photo finish from jockey Mike Smith and Diamond Wow (9-1) to earn the victory and, with it, a spot in the Juvenile Fillies Turf next month at Del Mar.
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Odds-on favorite Turnerloose (4-5) held the lead for most of the 1 1/16-mile race before being overtaken in mid-stretch and finishing third.
California Angel’s winning time was 1:44.30 for the 1 1/16 miles on turf that was rated good. The early fractions established by Turnerloose started with a dubious 19.92-second first quarter-mile followed by more a credible 47.73 for the half-mile and 1:13.31 for the first three quarters. California Angel led after a mile, clocked at 1:44.30.
Bought for only $5,500 this summer by Chris Walsh, California Angel was unraced until Sept. 8, when she broke her maiden on debut in a $135,000 maiden turf race at Kentucky Downs. She then finished third in a dirt sprint two weeks ago at Churchill Downs.
The final Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races will be Saturday at Ascot, England, where the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) and British Champions (G1) will qualify the winners for invitations to the Mile and Turf, respectively.