John C. Oxley's Funny Proposition sprinted to the early lead and drew away late to upset champion mare Royal Delta by five lengths in Saturday's $186,375 Fleur De Lis Handicap Presented by Etihad Airways (Grade II) on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Fleur de Lis, which means “flower of the lily” and honors the symbol in the city of Louisville's flag, was the first of five graded stakes races run under the lights as part of Churchill Downs' special “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” nighttime racing program.
Royal Delta, the two-time Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner who was making her first start since a 10th-place finish in the $5 million Dubai World Cup on March 30, was all the rage before Saturday's race and was sent to post as the odds-on 1-5 favorite in the field of five fillies and mares. But it was Funny Proposition, who had the last laugh.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Funny Proposition clicked off quarter-mile fractions of :23.30, :46.83, 1:11.62 and 1:36.83. She stopped the teletimer in 1:50.22 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track.
The 4-year-old filly trained by Mark Casse returned to stakes company Saturday after an impressive three-length win in a one-mile allowance/optional-claiming race at Churchill Downs on May 17. This was her first stakes triumph.
“It's a very big deal because it puts Funny's name on the map,” said Norman Casse, the son and assistant trainer to his father Mark. “We beat the best in the country and now we're going to get some recognition.”
As Funny Proposition led the field by as many as 3 ½ lengths after a half-mile, Royal Delta was forwardly placed four-wide and came within reach of Funny Proposition after three-quarters of mile. But as the eventual winner kicked on, Royal Delta could not keep up and drifted in to the rail in mid-stretch to just hold second.
“She seemed a little bit more pensive in the paddock than normal,” said Royal Delta's Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “Maybe it's just a matter of getting back into action. We'll see.”
Funny Proposition, who carried 117 pounds, paid $13.40 and $4.20 as the 5-1 third betting choice. Royal Delta, the 125-pound high weight ridden by Mike Smith, returned $2.10. She's All In was another three-quarters of a length back in third and was followed by Ice Cream Silence and Wine Princess.
Funny Proposition, a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro out of the Distorted Humor mare Humorous Miss, won for the fourth time in nine career starts. The $115,553 winner's share doubled her earnings to $230,295.
She was bred in Kentucky by Russell L. Reineman Stables Inc.
FLEUR DE LIS HANDICAP QUOTES
Norman Casse, assistant to Mark Casse, trainer of Funny Proposition, winner: “The saying is, ‘It's nice when a plan comes together.' We had a plan and it came together the way we thought it would. We thought we would take it to (Royal Delta) right away and she was coming off a layoff. I've said this before that we've never gotten to run her every three or four weeks where she's actually getting race fit. She was finally race fit and was working very well. For a long time she had shown she was our best horse and we got to see it today.”
Q. Did you really believe going in that you could defeat the two-time champion, Royal Delta? “I would never say that because I have a lot of respect for that mare, especially on this racetrack. But if we were going to get an advantage it was going to be today because she was coming off a layoff and a dull effort in Dubai.
“It's a very big deal because it puts Funny's name on the map. We beat the best in the country and now we're going to get some recognition.”
Joel Rosario, rider on Funny Proposition, winner: “She's a good horse and she's a filly that will take you the whole way. Turning for home, I felt like I had a little bit left and she was able to go on.”
Q. Were your instructions to go to the lead? “Yes. That's what Norman (Casse) told me in the paddock. He told me to take the lead and hope we've got something left turning for home. She was able to do it. I was very happy with the trip.”
Bill Mott, trainer of Royal Delta, runner-up: “She seemed a little bit more pensive in the paddock than normal. Maybe it's just a matter of getting back into action. We'll see.”
Mike Smith, rider on Royal Delta, runner-up: “It was her first race back. She shipped to Dubai and came back. I know it worked last year, but sometimes it just takes a little longer. That certainly wasn't her A-race. She'll come back and run big.”
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