More rainfall and cool temperatures threatened less-than-ideal racing conditions once again as a crowd of 158,070 rolled into Churchill Downs Saturday for the 143rd renewal of the Kentucky Derby. The rain let up with overcast skies by the time the stakes action started and the sun even made an appearance at various times, giving glimmers of hope to fans and horsemen alike.
One bright spot on the track was Paulassilverlining, who emerged as the female sprint division leader after picking up her second consecutive Grade 1 victory for Juddmonte Farms and trainer Chad Brown in the Humana Distaff. The 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare defeated the 2016 champion female sprinter and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Finest City and Carina Mia in a tight finish to take the first stakes on the Derby Day card.
“She came to me in outstanding condition,” Brown said. “I’ve had her for five months and there wasn’t really much to do. We put her on our program and she’s adapted well. I think she’s just a good racehorse whose been good her whole career and is just conditioning.”
Brown made it back-to-back wins in the following race when Roca Rojo edged Believe In Bertie by a nose in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile for owners Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables and Bradley Thoroughbreds.
“We found her in France at a race in the middle of nowhere,” Bradley said. “She put in two huge runs that were at a lesser track but the way she exploded in both races, we decided to pony up. We paid a good price for her, but she’s proven us right. It’s nice when they do that.
“This is a group we’ve definitely partnered with in the past. We’ve got Dacita with the Sheep Pond group. Sol Kumin and Jay Hanley from Boston come in on a lot of our partnerships. Newport Stables is also a group out of Boston that’s great. And then the Bradley Thoroughbreds entity owns about 50 percent of this filly. So we’ve got some great people involved and they deserve a filly like this.”
After suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of multiple Grade 1 winner Miss Temple City in her last outing, Roca Rojo and her connections sought revenge in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. But after Miss Temple City was scratched by trainer Graham Motion, Roca Rojo was the clear favorite at 7-5. She stalked front-running Believe In Bertie through the opening stages, passed her in the stretch and held her off at the wire to win by a head under Florent Geroux.
“I was right off the leader (Believe In Bertie),” Geroux said. “My filly was closer than she usually is. 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.”
Brown was optimistic about Roca Roja’s chances and has a plan mapped out for the filly later this spring.
“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, that makes a lot of sense, in five weeks at a mile at Belmont.”