LOUISVILLE, KY – Peter Brant’s Dunbar Road fought hard in the stretch with a stubborn Chocolate Kisses to win her 2020 debut in Saturday’s inaugural running of the $100,000 Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs.

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Breaking from post 4 under Jose Ortiz as the 3/5 heavy favorite, Dunbar Road settled comfortably near the rear of the eight-horse field. Up front, Flower Party raced three-wide into the clubhouse turn before safely crossing over Chocolate Kisses and Awe Emma to secure the early lead.

Racing unpressured down the backstretch, Flower Party posted opening fractions of :24.72, :48.66, and 1:13.06, but heading into the far turn, Awe Emma ranged up alongside and soon past the pacesetter. Awe Emma held the lead momentarily, but Chocolate Kisses – who had tipped off the rail and followed Awe Emma past Flower Party – was hot on her heels.

Behind the front-runners, Dunbar Road tipped out wide and began winding up what looked like a massive effort, emerging at the top of the stretch just a tick behind Chocolate Kisses. Dunbar Road and Chocolate Kisses passed Awe Emma at the 1/8 pole and commenced a battle that saw neither refuse to give in without a fight.

The two raced heads apart until the 1/16 pole, when Dunbar Road pulled forward to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The Chad Brown trainee completed the 1 1/16-mile route over the fast main track in a final time of 1:43.65.

Credit: Coady Photography

“We broke a little slow, but she’s so classy,” Ortiz said. “I’m very happy she’s back.”

Vault hit the side of her stall when the gate sprung open and was pinched to the back early, but she followed Dunbar Road past much of the field in the far turn and stayed within range before finishing third, 1 1/4 lengths behind second and 3/4 of a length ahead of Awe Emma.

The rest of the strung-out field came across as Another BroadShe’s a JulieMoonlit Garden, and an empty Flower Party.

Dunbar Road’s win was her first since taking the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga last summer and improved her record to 8-5-1-1 with $758,040 earned. The 4-year-old Quality Road filly was a late $2,000 supplement after not originally being nominated, but the unknown status of racing throughout much of the country led Brown to placing her here last-minute.

Dunbar Road returned $3.40 to win, $3.20 to place, and $2.40 to show. Chocolate Kisses brought back $11 to place and $5.40 to show, while Vault paid $3 to show.