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Benner Island Holds off Union Strike in G2 Eight Belles

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

LOUISVILLE, KY – Shortleaf Stable’s Benner Island held off the fast-closing Union Strike by a head and survived a rider’s objection to win the 62nd running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Eight Belles presented by Kentucky Trailer for 3-year-old fillies.

Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Javier Castellano, Benner Island covered the seven furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:24.28. The victory gave the Cox-Castellano duo back-to-back stakes triumphs Friday to go with Green Mask’s victory in the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint.

“This is awesome,” Cox said. “Growing up two blocks outside the back gate, this is my home. I don’t know if it’s hit me yet. Green Mask showed up today and finally got it done, and then this filly. We expected her to run big today.”

Benner Island established an early lead and maintained a daylight advantage in the run down the backside. She maintained her advantage to the stretch, where she repulsed a challenge from Golden Mischief and then a final surge from Union Strike.  Following the race, Union Strike’s jockey, Brice Blanc, claimed alleged interference by Benner Island down the stretch near the 3/16th pole. Upon reviewing the claim, race stewards opted not to change the order of finish.

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“I don’t understand why they didn’t take her (Benner Island) down,” Blanc said. “She broke my momentum twice. We were inside the 3/16 pole and I got up in the hole – I was in there. And she shut me off.”

The victory was worth $112,840 and increased Benner Island’s earnings to $235,863 with a record of 8-3-2-0. Benner Island is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Speightstown out of the Awesome Again mare Spacy Tracy.

“She was taking Javier up the backside, and when I saw the 22 and change (for the first 1/4-mile), I didn’t mind that,” Cox said. “When I saw 45 and change (for the 1/2-mile). I didn’t like that. But, honestly, turning for home, I thought she would back up on the fractions. Knowing the filly, I knew she would fight and was fit. It was a big effort and a great job.”

Laney passed Golden Mischief late for third. Golden Mischief, another 2 1/4 lengths back in fourth, was followed in order by Pretty City Dancer, Gris Gris, China Grove, Cajun Delta Dawn, Let It Ride Mom, Florida Fabulous, Ghalia, What What What, Lovely Bernadette, and I’mluckysgirl.

Benner Island returned $8.80, $5, and $3.80. Union Strike brought back $5.40 and $4, while Laney paid $14.20 to show.

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ADDITIONAL RACE QUOTES

Jockey Javier Castellano, Benner Island – “The track is a little speed-favoring and I used my horse a little bit early to put her in a good position, especially considering the race was 7/8 (of a mile). She fought very hard down the stretch, and I know once I was past the wire that I was confident she stayed in her path.”

Trainer Brad Cox, Benner Island – “The Acorn (Grade 1 on June 10 at Belmont Park) would be ideal for her next, but we’ll let her tell us. Hopefully, Javier can stay on her. She hasn’t had a tough campaign, but she’s been running steady for three months, so we’ll see how she comes out. I think one turn is what she is best at, and I think she proved that when she flattened in the (Grade 3) Fantasy after ranging up.”

Jockey Brice Blanc, Union Strike – “I broke a little slow, but my filly put me right in the race. First time in the mud for her and she ran terrific. A good race for her for sure.”

Churchill Downs

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