Unfamiliar Ground

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Jeff Bonde made a beeline for Keeneland’s winner’s circle Saturday a few minutes after the Grade 2 Lexus Raven Run Stakes. He paused when he reached the weigh out scale, checked out the scene in the winner’s circle and across the main track on the turf course and looked a touch out of sorts.

The California-based horseman gets a pass for his lack of familiarity with the formalities of Keeneland – he’d only run seven horses in Lexington during his career going back to the 1974 and although one was a winner it didn’t come in a graded stakes. Bonde quickly got the heads up from Keeneland’s Bob Elliston and was on his way across the track to meet Miss Sunset on the turf course.

Miss Sunset, a California-bred filly by Into Mischief out of a mare once claimed out of a winning race at Los Alamitos for $2,000, earned Bonde the trip after winning the $250,000 Raven Run in her first trip outside her home state. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, Miss Sunset defeated fellow Californian Chalon by a half-length with longshot Torrent third in the field of 10.

Miss Sunset earned the trip to Keeneland off back-to-back victories over Cal-breds in stakes at Del Mar and after Bonde scratched her from last weekend’s California Distaff at Santa Anita Park. Bettors, in the crowd of 27,291 at Keeneland and beyond, recognized Miss Sunset’s potential in the deep Raven Run field and send her off as the 3-1 choice despite the presence of graded stakes winners Overture, Nonna Mela, Pretty City Dancer and Tequilita.

“My owners own the mare of this horse and they also own Smiling Tiger, a popular sire in California, so they thought it was in their interest to try and get graded stakes-placed,” Bonde said of his decision to ship East for the Raven Run. “We got better than that. Every time this filly runs, she’s one of the most honest horses I’ve ever had. She give it her all. If you beat her, you’ve got to come with your ‘A’ game.”

Some of the aforementioned graded stakes winners, along with other opponents such as Pinch Hit, Happy Mesa and Classy Tune, came into the 7-furlong Raven Run in good form or off strong races.

None brought enough ‘A game’ to match Miss Sunset.

Leparoux rated the bay filly just off the pace of Chalon, running back off two weeks rest following a second to older foes in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland, through splits of :22.64 and :45.61. The pace was quick but Leparoux said Miss Sunset was “easy to rate.”

Leparoux, riding Miss Sunset for the first time, also received a confidence boost from the man who rode her in her last three starts well before the Raven Run.

“I talked to Mike Smith, and he told me I had a great chance,” Leparoux said. “When Mike tells you that (you know) she has a big chance.”

Miss Sunset wore down Chalon in the stretch before edging clear approaching the wire to win in 1:22.21. Chalon held second, 1 length clear of the noses apart duo of 59-1 Torrent and 7-2 second choice Tequilita.

Bonde added the Raven Run to his previous Keeneland victory with Nechez Dream in an allowance race during the 2012 fall meeting. He sent Mega Dream out to a fifth in that year’s Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America.

The first Keeneland starter for Bonde came in 1999 when Epic Honor finished fourth behind eventual Horse of the Year and dual classic winner Charismatic in the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes. He later finished second in the Grade 2 Darley Alcibiades in 2006 with Untouched Talent, the dam of Bodemeister.

“That’s about as good as I’ve done,” Bonde said walking back under the tunnel en route to celebrate with champagne in the clubhouse. “I don’t come out here that often.”