Keertana Dashes to Victory in The Very One

Keertana Dashes to Victory in The Very One

02/20/2011

The $100,000 The Very One (G3) was run at 1-3/8 miles at Gulfstream Park Sunday, but the Grade 3 turf stakes for fillies and mares pretty much turned into a sprint.

After Chilean champion Belle Watling was allowed to set a dawdling pace for a mile in her U.S. debut, the real running only started at the top of the homestretch, with Keertana managing to out-kick her four rivals on her way to a half-length victory.

“I was a little worried that we were going so slow,” said Jose Lezcano, who rode Keertana to a hard-fought victory over Zapparition. “I didn’t really know how good the horse on the lead was.”

Indeed, the unknown factor in the 23rd running of the The Very One was Belle Watling, who had won 13 of 16 and her last 10 races in her native Chile before being imported to the U.S. in December.

Edgar Prado quickly sent Belle Watling to the lead before just as quickly backing down the pace to a virtual crawl, posting quarter-mile fractions of :26 1/5, :53,  1:20 and 1:45 for the first mile. Keertana ($7.20) closely stalked the South American invader into the far turn, where Julien LeParoux sent Zapparition after the leaders with a three-wide move. After straightening out for the stretch run, Keertana edged away to a narrow lead, as Belle Watling couldn’t keep up on the inside and the Zapparition continued to threaten on the outside.

Keertana, who was beaten by only a half-length by Shared Account while finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) last fall, held her ground and held off the challenge of the 24-1 outsider.

“After the first half-mile, when they went by me, I thought, ‘what is this?’  It was like a mile race after they warmed up for the first half,” said winning trainer Tom Proctor, whose 5-year-old mare ran 1-3/8 miles in 2:19 1/5.

Zapparition, the longest shot on the board, finished 1-3/4 lengths ahead of Musical Rain, who closed from last under Javier Castellano to finish 1-1/2 lengths ahead of Belle Watling. Changing Skies, the 6-5 favorite, finished another neck back in last after being checked by jockey Kent Desormeaux in mid-stretch while trying to slip inside Belle Watling. A stewards’ inquiry resulted in no change in the order of finish.

Belle Watling, the 8-5 second choice, hadn’t raced since winning her ninth straight victory against males in Chile last October.

“She’s still coming back.  It’s a long process.  We didn’t bring her here to win a Grade 3, so we’ll get her back,” trainer Patrick Biancone said. “We’ll make sure she came back okay and see what’s in the future”

Prado said Belle Watling’s losing U.S. debut didn’t diminish his opinion of the 5-year-old mare.

“There was not a lot of speed in the race.  She was comfortable.  Around the turn I got into her and she gave me a run, she just couldn’t sustain it.  She hadn’t run in a while so hopefully she’ll move forward off this race.,” the Hall of Fame jockey said. “I still think she’s a really nice horse.”

Keertana, who won for the ninth time in 23 career starts, will likely run in the $150,000 Orchid (G3) at Gulfstream on March 20.

“I don’t think this race took a whole lot out of her. I might even run her back in a race (in Tampa) and then maybe come back here for the Orchid,” Proctor said. “When it starts to get hot, we’ll probably give her a little break.”

The competition might get heated in the Orchid if Belle Watling comes out of her U.S. debut in fine order.

“We want to keep her running long, so maybe the mile-and-a-half race next month,” Biancone said.