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Amerman Racing LLC's homebred Coffee Clique slipped through along the rail to capture Saturday's Grade 2, $336,900 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, the opening stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Jockey Javier Castellano guided the Brian Lynch pupil around the firm turf at Churchill Downs, and the pair finished up in 1:34 ⅗ as the 5-1 third choice to pay $13.80 for the win.
I'm Already Sexy tried to lead all the way home, setting opening splits of :24, :46 4/5 and 1:10 ⅖. Coffee Clique bided her time in fourth, running in the two path down the backstretch before angling over to the rail. The Medaglia d'Oro miss skimmed the hedge to get up and deny 36-1 longshot Dame Marie, who emerged from the pack to take over in late stretch.
"I saw the way two or three horses have the speed in the race. I wanted to just stay off the pace a little bit," Castellano explained his ride. "My horse is very brave. Turning for home, she split horses and kept on the rail. I saved all the ground. The most important thing on the grass is to save some ground and I think it paid off today."
"I thought she settled lovely," Lynch noted. "It was a good decision on the first turn to take back a bit. [Castellano] said she was game down on the inside the last part of it and he didn't really have to get after her. He could feel she was getting into a rhythm.
"We'll be taking her up to Canada this summer for the grass program up there. This spring she has really come to herself."
Coffee Clique was a half-length better than Dame Marie on the wire with Effie Trinket at 8-1 another 1 ¾ lengths back in third. Ready Signal at 9-1 completed the 2-4-8-7 superfecta that paid a very nice $22,842.60 for $2.
"I had a very good trip today," said Irad Oritz Jr., Dame Marie's rider. "I followed the instructions of the trainer [Eddie Kenneally] so I would not be too far from the lead. My filly just pulled me to the front and I could not stop her. I was happy with her effort and she ran pretty good."
Centre Court, the 7-5 favorite, came next after running in the rear on the backstretch and was followed by I'm Already Sexy, Miz Ida, Tapicat and Absolute Crackers.
"She missed a little bit at the start. It's not really an excuse," explained Julien Leparoux, who had piloting duties aboard Centre Court. "She always did get out, but around the turn today, she was just getting out pretty bad, both turns, and I kept losing ground because of that. I lost two or three lengths each turn and it costs us."
Coffee Clique opened her four-year-old season with a head victory in a March 26 optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. That was the bay filly's first start since finishing third in Woodbine's Ontario Colleen last August 17, and she also ran fourth in the Dance Smarty and posted a four-length triumph in the Selene at that Toronto venue last year.
Coffee Clique began her career as a juvenile at Woodbine, taking her maiden debut, before shipping to Gulfstream Park to kick off her sophomore campaign. While in Florida the filly ran fourth in the Herecomesthebride and third in the Secret Grace, though she was elevated to second in that latter event due to the disqualification of another rival.
Saturday's Distaff Turf Mile score doubled Coffee Clique's earnings to $417,518 and her line now reads 5-1-1 from 10 career starts.
Bred in Kentucky by Mrs. Jerry Amerman, Coffee Clique is the first registered stakes performer out of the winning Royal Academy mare Miss Chapin. Her second dam is the French-bred mare Society Dream, a Grade 3-placed stakes winner, and also of note in this female family is Grade 1 heroine Sharp Belle.