LOUSIVILLE H. | PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 |1 1/2-MILES (TURF)
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Dark Cove surged to the lead leaving the far turn and gamely repelled late bids from Atigun and Najjaar to prove best in Saturday's Grade 3, $111,800 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. Trained by Mike Maker, the reformed claimer has now posted consecutive graded stakes victories, scoring an upset in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland previously.
Sent off the 2-1 second choice on Saturday, Dark Cove paid $6.40, $3.80 and $3.20 for his gutsy win
Haltered by his connections for a $50,000 tag in April 2012, Dark Cove was sidelined eight months following a fourth that afternoon. The six-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro returned at the same level in three starts earlier this year at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park, recording a fourth, a win and a second, respectively, in claiming events before stepping up in class and returning from a near two-month freshening in the April 26 Elkhorn.
He carried his momentum forward in the Louisville. With jockey Rosie Napravnik up, the bay broke well and raced within striking position as Al Qasr and Mack's Blackhawk contested an opening quarter-mile in :24 1/5. Al Qasr advanced to set the next fractions in :49, 1:14 and 1:38 4/5 on a short lead and continued to show the way into the far turn as Dark Cove began to edge forward.
Dark Cove rallied three wide to the front before conclusion of the final bend and widened his advantage as he accelerated into the stretch, reaching the eighth pole with a 1 1/2-length cushion. However, Atigun and Najjaar were both closing fast to his outside and momentarily loomed a serious threat in deep stretch. The winner kept finding more all the way to the wire, prevailing by a half-length.
"The horse gives you 110 percent every time," Maker said. "He's all heart and class."
"I was in a dream spot," Napravnik said of her trip. "I couldn't have picked a better spot. I was happy with where I was the whole way...I knew they were coming, but (Dark Cove) was the class of the race."
Dark Cove, who was spotting Atigun six pounds and Najjaar eight pounds as the 122-pound highweight, completed the 1 1/2-mile distance in 2:27 1/5 on the firm turf.
Atigun, the slight 2-1 favorite, won the bob for second by a nose over the 11-1 Najjaar.
"He had a terrible trip," trainer Kenny McPeek said of the runner-up. "I think he was several lengths the best horse."
It was another 6 1/2-length gap back to fourth-placer Prime Cut, who was followed by Ioya Bigtime, Heathcote, Al Qasr, Harrods Creek and Mack's Blackhawk under the finish line.
Dark Cove's resume now reads 23-8-2-1, $399,054. Originally claimed from owner Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito for just $16,000 in his third start, he promptly won three in a row for a partnership organized by trainer Ken McPeek. Dark Cove was unplaced in his first two stakes attempts in the 2010 Commonwealth Turf and 2011 Ft. Lauderdale, but subsequently got up for third in the Colonial Turf Cup. After a trio of sixths in the aforementioned John's Call, Hollywood Gold Cup and Washington Park Handicap, he was spelled for six months.
Upon his return in 2012, Dark Cove was given class relief in starter allowances, but ultimately slid down for the tag and was claimed by his current connections.
Dark Cove was bred by Stonewall Farm Stallions in Kentucky and sold twice at Keeneland -- for $120,000 as a November weanling and $155,000 as a September yearling. Out of the Kris S. mare Crystal Cove, he comes from the family of Grade 3 winners Better Now, River Squall and Heavenly Landing, and further back, Australian Group 2 victor Churchill Downs.