Secret Message emerges in blanket finish to win Churchill's Mint Julep

Secret Message emerges in blanket finish to win Churchill's Mint Julep
Photo: Coady Photography

In a stacked field of female turf routers Saturday, Secret Message pulled the upset in Churchill Downs’ Grade 3, $100,000 Mint Julep Stakes.

The 5-year-old Secret Message went off at 25-1 odds for trainer Graham Motion in the Mint Julep, a 1 1/16-mile trip on the turf for older fillies and mares. Juliet Foxtrot garnered 8-5 favoritism from the rail, with Beau Recall, Nay Lady Nay and Varenka among the 14-horse field’s other graded stakes winners.

Mitchell Road came in from the far outside to set fractions of :23.7 and :48.27. The favorite sat just behind her in second, while Secret Message sat mid-pack on the outside.

Turning into the stretch, Mitchell Road and Juliet Foxtrot dueled up front, while Zofelle came up to challenge the top two. As Zofelle put her nose in front, Secret Message gained ground six-wide under jockey John Velazquez.

"I was just sort of biding time there on the outside and she kept finding her stride down the lane and was able to get up late," Velazquez said.

Secret Message reached Zofelle in the final yards before the wire, as did late-charging La Signare to that pair’s inside. A photo finish determined the top three as Secret Message followed by La Signare and then Zofelle.

The Hat Trick mare Secret Message covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.13. She returned $53.40 as the winner and topped a $2 exacta worth $1,045.20, a 50-cent trifecta that paid $2,305 and a 10-cent superfecta returning $11,681.34.

The Mint Julep also completed a 50-cent Pick 5 worth $131,963.40 thanks to four winners in the sequence – Bell’s the One (13-1), What a Country (17-1), Whimsical Muse (25-1) and Secret Message (25-1) – scoring at double-digit odds Saturday under the Twin Spires.

Madaket Stables LLC, Heider Family Stables LLC, ERJ Racing LLC, Elayne Stables and Steven Bouchey all campaign the Kentucky-bred Secret Message. The mare now owns six wins out of 15 starts, including graded triumphs in Arlington’s 2018 Pucker Up Stakes (G3), Woodbine’s 2019 Nassau Stakes (G2) and Saturday’s Mint Julep.

La Signare notched her third straight finish in the money for trainer Brendan Walsh. The 5-year-old French-bred mare is still looking for her first graded score since Belmont Park’s 2018 Wonder Again Stakes (G3).

Walsh also trains Zofelle, the third-place finisher. The 4-year-old Irish-bred filly made her graded stakes debut Saturday in the Mint Julep.

“Both horses ran such a huge race,” Walsh said. “We ran second and third by a head. Those are really tough beats when you lose by that close of a margin but we are really proud of both of their efforts.”

Among other notables, Juliet Foxtrot ran sixth, Mitchell Road seventh, Nay Lady Nay eighth, Beau Recall ninth and Varenka 11th.

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