Alex G. Campbell Jr.'s homebred Karlovy Vary was sent off the second longest shot on the board at 15-1 in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes, but that didn't stop the Rusty Arnold pupil from leading all the way home under jockey James Graham. The bay miss paid out $32.80, $11.60 and $5.60 to her faithful backers when completing 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland's Polytrack in 1:44 4/5.
"We had trained her on the Polytrack. She loved it, had never had the opportunity to run on it," Arnold said. "Got together with (breeder and owner) Mr. (Alex) Campbell and wanted to aim at this spot back in January, and this is where we pointed. It was one of those few plans that worked.
"She'll run in the (Grade 1 Kentucky) Oaks if everything goes good. We still think she can run on the dirt. She had her one start on the dirt (finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November), had some things go wrong. We fixed those and think we're ready now."
Graham sent Karlovy Vary from the very beginning, and the pair proceeded to set splits of :24 1/5, :48 4/5 and 1:13 3/5 on the backstretch. Multiple Turfway Park stakes winner Lotta Lovin tracked just to her outside while Dixie Strike, Hard Not to Like and even-money favorite Stephanie's Kitten kept each other company in behind.
Stephanie's Kitten, who was making her first start since taking the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November, was the first to go after the top two, ranging up to the outside of Hard Not to Like entering the turn. Though she gave it a good effort, the Wayne Catalano trainee just could not make up any ground, and those three finished in that order on the wire.
"Rusty said she was doing good. She ran a great race and it showed today," Graham said. "If nobody else wanted it (the lead), we were going to be there anyway. So we just took her on and let her do her thing."
"I've won two Grade 1s and both of them have been here. (His first was in the 2009 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Hot Cha Cha.) Today the win was for Rusty, which was brilliant. Couldn't be any better."
Karlovy Vary had three parts of a length to spare on Hard Not to Like, with Stephanie's Kitten another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Heart of Destiny rallied from the rear in the lane to take fourth, with Dixie Strike, Goldrush Girl and Lotta Lovin finishing out the order under the wire.
"I'm very happy with her. She kind of got a little stuck (behind horses) and the other horse (winner Karlovy Vary) got a little jump on her," trainer Gail Cox said of Hard Not to Like. "We'll go back to the barn and figure out where we go from here."
"Julien (Leparoux) said the track was all right for her," Catalano said of Stephanie's Kitten, "but the main thing was that speed and the rail were a little better but that wasn't the position we were in. Being (outside) she gave them some ground. Speed and the rail was a little better for the winner. We'll talk it over and look and see how the filly came back."
With this first race back, it's on to bigger and better things for Stephanie's Kitten.
"I thought she'd kick in but she didn't. I'm a little disappointed," said Ken Ramsey, owner and breeder of Stephanie's Kitten. "You always like to win the Grade 1s -- they're hard to come by. But we're at least stakes-placed in a Grade 1. She got a good, solid third.
"The goal is to go to Royal Ascot. We've been over there twice and run second both times so I'd like to win one. The (Group 1) Coronation Stakes is the best race they have over there for three-year-old fillies.
"We'll get another race in her at Churchill or Arlington Park or someplace, and if she goes on forward we're still going. But if I don't think I can run one-two-three, I would think about (not) going. I've already run second twice. We're not flying over to run second again.
"We're looking for a better effort next time. We'd like to have gotten a race into her at Gulfstream while she was down there for the winter. But the trainer said she needed a little more time. I'm not calling (the Ashland) a prep race but it's a step in the right direction toward Royal Ascot."
As for Karlovy Vary, her earnings catapulted to $362,294 for taking this, her first stakes win, and her scorecard now shows 6-3-0-1. The bay daughter of Dynaformer was a close third in her career debut on Saratoga's turf last September, then broke through with a first victory on Keeneland's green in October. Arnold switched his charge to the main track at Churchill Downs, but the filly didn't seem to take to the surface when running a well-beaten seventh.
Karlovy Vary closed out her juvenile campaign with another seventh, but only three lengths behind, in Gulfstream's grassy Ginger Brew Stakes, and opened the year with a three-quarter length victory on that same course against optional claiming rivals in late February.
The Kentucky-bred Karlovy Vary is out of the winning Pulpit mare The Right Pew, making her a full sister to Grade 2 runner-up Rocket Legs. The Right Pew is herself a half-sibling to dual Grade 2 vixen Great Intentions, Grade 3-placed multiple stakes heroine Sea Road and stakes second Shop Hill.
Karlovy Vary's third dam is the Hoist the Flag mare Harbor Flag, who produced Grade 3-winning sire Country Light and the dual stakes-placed mare Vue. That latter one would go on in the breeding shed to foal War Pass, the 2007 champion two-year-old colt; Grade 1 victress Oath, herself the dam of multiple Grade 3 scorer Honest Man; and Grade 2 runner-up Vision of Beauty.
Karlovy Vary's fifth dam is 1957 champion three-year-old filly Bayou, who is a full sister to 1970 Broodmare of the Year Levee and a half-sister to 1968 Broodmare of the Year Delta. Bayou is the granddam of dual champion and sire Slew O' Gold as well as 1979 Belmont Stakes hero Coastal.