Fern Circle Stables' Stronger Than Ever appeared to be just that after out gunning a stubborn Wonder Gadot in the Fair Grounds stretch to take the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at odds of 33-1 under Florent Geroux.
The 3-year-old daughter of Congrats was the last of eight early on while 74-1 longshot Shes Our Fastest set the pace and led the Silverbulletday field in opening fractions of 23.57 and 47.43. The pacesetter gave way at the three-quarters mark to 2-1 favorite Wonder Gadot, who led the way coming down the top of the long Fair Grounds stretch before being confronted by Stronger Than Ever. The favorite battled the whole way down the top of the stretch but could not quite get past the eventual winner who took the Silverbulletday Stakes by a neck and earned 10 points on Churchill Downs' Road To The Kentucky Oaks for trainer Kenny McPeek. Missive came from off the pace and completed the trifecta at odds of 23-1.
“The trip was not great, actually,” Geroux said. “My filly fought very hard all the way to the wire. (Wonder Gadot) gave my filly a run for her money. The distance wasn't an issue and she showed that she can race pretty well. There was a very honest pace up front and I think that my filly is pretty nice.”
Stronger Than Ever broke her maiden at first asking over the Churchill Downs main track on Sept. 16. She returned the winner's circle next out in a one mile allowance event at Keeneland before finishing a well-beaten seventh in the Gr. II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. Last time out, she was third in the Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park.
“She did everything like she was supposed to do,” said McPeek's assistant trainer Greg Geier. “Hopefully we can go from here. I thought she would run well especially with the pace that was in the race and we just let them sit there and wait and make one big run. She ran a good race at Remington, she stuck wide out there and got a little tired but she did fine today. We'll see what Kenny wants to do (for her next start).”
Despite coming up just a neck short of victory, trainer Mark Casse was still pleased with two-time graded stakes winner Wonder Gadot's effort. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro earned 4 points from her runner-up effort on Saturdayafternoon and now lies second on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard with 14 points. She previously earned 10 points from a victory in the Gr. II Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct in November.
“I thought she ran well, we just got unlucky,” Casse said. “She fought on and she probably wants a little more ground where she doesn't have to be so aggressive early. It'll be interesting because I think the time will end up being fairly good. I've got to think about (running in the Gr. II Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 17), but probably.”
Casse also trained fifth-place finisher and Grade I winner Heavenly Love.
“She got in a little trouble,” Casse said of the daughter of Malibu Moon. “She likes and wants a little harder ground maybe. We've always said Keeneland and Churchill are a little more turfy. That's twice now she's kind of lost her action.”
Trainer Mike Stidham was delighted to finish third with Missive and would consider a start in the Rachel Alexandra as long as his filly exits the race in good order.
“Very pleased to get stakes placing,” Stidham said. “I thought she ran a big race. Off that effort, I would probably say we run in the next one as long as she comes out of it okay.”
In addition to earning 10 points toward a potential start in Churchill Downs' Gr. I Longines Kentucky Oaks, Stronger Than Ever also added $90,000 to her career earnings which pushed her bankroll over the six-figure mark to $174,846. She was a $310,000 purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from consigner Woods Edge Farm.
Stronger Than Ever rewarded her backers in large payouts of $68.40, $12.20 and $6.40 while favorite Wonder Gadot returned $2.80 and $2.20 to place. Missive returned $6.60 to show.
Blonde Bomber, Heavenly Love, Terra's Angel, America's Tale and Shes Our Fastest completed the order of finish.
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