Fleur de Lis Handicap (Grade II) winner Blue Prize (Arg) and Groupie Doll (GIII) winner Champagne Problems engaged in a thrilling stretch battle with Blue Prize emerging as a narrow nose winner in Saturday’s 35th running of the $100,000 Locust Grove (Grade III) for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Ignacio Correas and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Blue Prize covered the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:43.69 for owners John Moores and Charles Noell’s Merribelle Stable LLC.
Streamline set the pace from the inside and led the field of nine through comfortable early fractions of :24.53 and :48.96 with Blue Prize pressing from second and Champagne Problems tracking in third. Blue Prize took the lead on the far turn but was quickly met by a determined Champagne Problems from the outside at the head of the stretch. The two clashed throughout the stretch but Blue Prize, who raced down on the inside, narrowly prevailed in the long drive to the wire.
“This was the first time I’ve been on this horse in the afternoon but she was relaxed and moving very easily the entire time," said winning rider Leparoux. "I breezed her about a month ago at Keeneland. She’s a very classy horse.”
Blue Prize, a 5-year-old Argentina-bred daughter of Pure Prize out of the Not For Sale (Arg) mare Blues for Sale (Arg), returned $3.80, $2.60 and $2.20. Champagne Problems, ridden by Calvin Borel, returned $3.40 and $2.80 as the 7-2 second betting choice with Mannerly finishing another 6 ¼ lengths back in third under Corey Lanerie and paying $5.80 to show.
Tiger Moth, Sailor’s Valentine, Pacific Pink, Streamline, Dutch Patriot and Pinch Hit completed the order of finish.
The victory was worth $59,520 to Blue Prize and increased her earnings to $664,753 with a record of 6-7-1 from 15 starts. She is now has three wins and two second from five starts at Churchill Downs. Blue Prize also was victorious in last fall’s Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day.
“She’s not used to running up close to the pace as she did today," winning trainer Ignacio Correas IV said. "There really wasn’t that much pace in the race but we know one thing is for sure – she loves this track. She’s done so well in all of her starts here and it’s great the Breeders’ Cup is here. We’re going and we’re excited.”
The Locust Grove is named after the 1790 Georgian mansion in Louisville that played home to ancestors of Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark.