The leading Darika handles the turf best on the Beverly D.

Louisville, Kentucky

The delicate grass course at Churchill Downs looked green and healthy until five horses ran out of it on Saturday afternoon.

For the first of two stakes in stages, we moved 300 miles from our spiritual home in Chicago. Darika (7-1) Overcame the solid road surface with minimal trouble. After losing the lead she enjoyed for most of the race, she dug in and won by half a length in Grade 1, taking Beverly D. for $500,000 filly and filly.

“The rougher the course, the better she is,” said her trainer Al Stoll Jr. “The course was never a problem for us. We weren’t worried. We’re actually glad there was a big question mark on the surface.”

The jockeys who left the course in their first turf race since June 10 at Churchill Downs were abrupt or diplomatic in their assessment.

“No comment,” said Florent Geroux, who briefly took the lead at the top of the stretch at Princess Grace (7-2) before taking second place.

“I hate to say it,” said Tyler Gaffarione, who rode the Family Way (2-1) to a third-place finish.

Brian Hernandez Jr. was more open about it. For one, he won. For another, he put Darika in front for most of his 1 1/8 mile race.

“I was in the lead the whole time, so I got through the best part of it,” he said.

The rails were set 24 feet away from the hedges to leave the pristine turf in the best possible shape for the high profile Arlington Million (G1) late Saturday afternoon.

For Dalika, a Grade 1 win has been a long time coming. In her last three attempts at the top level, her six-year-old filly of German stallion Pastorius had never run. She finished 4th and her 9th in her last two runs for the First Lady at Keeneland, vacating her 1-of-6 five minutes last month at Diana at Saratoga.

“We set it up for her today,” said owner Paul Varga, who grew up in Louisville and spent 11 years as head of the liquor and wine company Brown-Forman. Missed. She’s a fast horse and you can see how she fights.”

what she did. She and her 5-year-old Princess Grace ran around in one-two. Dalika established early fractions of 23.14, 46.44, and 1:10.13. By the time the field reached Far Turn Princess Grace had taken the lead and finished her first mile in her 1:33.87.

“I thought I had more than a shot,” said Géroux.

Given that Princess Grace had never raced more than 1 1/16 miles, Jeroux and trainer Mike Stidham felt the distance made a difference.

“The eighth mile seemed to catch her,” Stidham said. “She gave her heart. She couldn’t be a gamer.”

With Princess Grace’s needle almost empty, Darika fought back to take the lead and hold on to victory at a time of 1:46.31 on a course labeled good.

Under Kentucky’s new penny breakage law, Darika paid $17.02, $6.80 and $3.44. Princess Grace paid her $5.10 and she paid $2.96. Family Way listed at $2.28.

The nine furlongs weren’t necessarily old hat for Darika as this was only his third distance start, including last month’s Diana. But her last win until Saturday was at the Robert G. Dick Her Memorial (G3) last summer at her park in Delaware where she was 1 3/8 miles out of the soft she course. Since then she had lost five races.

“I was happy to see her break her toe,” Stoll said. “Brian put her to sleep on her ass. Yes, she’s not very nice, but she’s a lot nicer than last year.”

Stohl and Varga said the Kentucky Downs would likely be next after Darika. But which race?She could join 1 5/16 miles, $550,000 ladies marathon (G3) or take another shot ladies turf (G3), a 1-mile race in which she finished second last year. If a Grade 1 winner like Darika starts, the prize money for that race increases from $750,000 to $1 million. However, she was not raised in Kentucky and is therefore not eligible to receive the extra money added to her purse.

“I left a lot of money on the table at Kentucky Downs because she ran two very good races there and couldn’t run because of the (Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund) subsidy.” Varga said. she said. “For her, both were really important races for her racing record.”

Still, the money available would still be good. Maybe that’s enough to justify sending Darika to the Breeders’ Cup.

“This will probably be a very big decision for us,” said Varga. “We thought about it last year too. She won a summer long race. We didn’t think she was going through with it and it’s an expensive nomination if they don’t do it while they’re young.”

For now, connectivity worries only about next month at the Kentucky-Tennessee border notch.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Varga.

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