LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 5 (UPI) -- A front-running upset and a track-record performance highlighted the rich Churchill Downs program supporting Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Little Mike shot quickly to the lead in the $500,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and, when no one came to challenge, went on to post the upset win by 2 1/2 lengths. Another long shot, Slim Shadey, finished second and Brilliant Speed was third. The favorite, Turallure, never got going and finished seventh. Little Mike, a 5-year-old Spanish Steps gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.81 with Joe Bravo handling the reins. He was sent to the post at odds of 12-1 despite having won five of his last six races.
"I thought he was the fastest horse in the race, period," winning trainer Dale Romans said. "I didn't know if he could go as far as he needed to, but we weren't going to take back … . He's a super horse and he deserves this Grade I."
Groupie Doll had things all her own way in the $300,000, Grade I Humana Distaff, seizing the lead entering the stretch, then easily kicking clear of her eight rivals to win by 7 1/4 lengths. She finished the 7 furlongs in track-record time of 1:20.44 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons. Musical Romance, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, finished second and Magical Feeling added value to the trifecta. Groupie Doll, a 4-year-old Bowman's Band filly, now has finished in the money in six straight races.
She entered Saturday's event off a 3-length win in the Grade I Madison over Keeneland's all-weather surface.
"I told Rajiv to put her in the race early," winning trainer Buff Bradley said. "But he got to the front earlier than I thought he would. When I saw that, I said, 'She's going to gallop from here.' Finishing has never been an issue with her."
He said he has not picked out Groupie Doll's next race.
Shackleford stalked the pace in the $400,000, Grade II Chuchill Downs Stakes, dueled with Amazombie through the stretch and finally prevailed by 1 length over that rival. Gantry was well back in third. Shackleford, also trained by Romans, was fourth in last year's Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness Stakes. He covered the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.06 with Jesus Castanon up.
It was his first win since the Preakness last May. He started his 4-year-old season with a fading finish in the 1 1/8-mile Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, then finished a close third in the Grade I Carter at Aqueduct when Romans cut him back to 7 furlongs.
"He deserves to be back in the winner's circle," Romans said. "It feels great. Every race he tries so hard. He had been in nine Grade I's. He's still the star of the barn. We're going to keep him short for a little while now. Maybe we'll try the Met Mile next. He can do just about anything."
Hungry Island split rivals entering the stretch run in the $200,000, Grade II Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile, rallied outside the leaders and got home first by a length over Tapitsfly. La Reine Lionne finished third. Hungry Island, a 4-year-old More Than Ready filly, finished in 1:36.20 over firm going with John Velazquez riding. It was her first graded stakes win and first of any kind since she posted a four-race victory skein last summer at Belmont and Saratoga.
"Perfect trip," winning rider John Velazquez said. "Everything worked out great. I asked her and she responded. She had a quick spurt when I had her out in the stretch and that was really nice."
Winning trainer Shug McGaughey said he "will enjoy stretching her out when the time comes. I'll see how she comes out of it."
Great Attack raced near the back of the pack early in the $125,000, Grade III Twin Spires Turf Sprint, found room between horses turning for home and was up on the outside to beat the favorite, Bridgetown, by 3/4 of a length. Cactus Son finished third. Great Attack, a 5-year-old son of Greatness, covered the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.61 seconds under Joel Rosario. Great Attack finished fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and most recently was sixth in the Grade III Shakertown at Keeneland.
"He's a very special sprinter," winning trainer Wesley Ward said. "I told Joel the instructions were to be 'a cool sitter and a go-getter,' and that's what he did, boy."
Ward said he has not yet picked out Great Attack's next race.
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