LOUISVILLE, KY – A late three-horse surge saw Secret Message just squeak by a pair of sharp foes in Saturday’s thrilling edition of the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs.
Breaking from post 7 under John Velazquez at 25/1 odds in the field of 14, Secret Message settled in mid-pack the first time past the wire, eventually running two-wide alongside La Signare. Meanwhile, Mitchell Road successfully cleared the field from the far outside and surpassed Juliet Foxtrot for the lead heading into the clubhouse turn.
Mitchell Road posted opening fractions of :23.70, :48.27, and 1:13.14 as she continued to lead through the far turn. Juliet Foxtrot – the 8/5 favorite – ranged up slowly and loomed a major threat off of the turn, but she struggled to gain ground on the pacesetter.
Meanwhile, behind them, Zofelle had tipped out and led a field-wide rally to the front. Zofelle overtook the pole position at the 1/16 pole, but Secret Message and La Signare came charging around either side of her.
In the shadow of the wire, Secret Message emerged with a slim advantage before crossing a head past her inside rivals. The Graham Motion trainee completed the 1 1/16-mile firm turf route in a final time of 1:43.13.
“I was just sort of biding time there on the outside and she kept finding her stride down the lane and was able to get up late,” Velazquez said.
La Signare nipped Zofelle by a neck, while a gaining She’sonthewarpath was a head further back in fourth.
“Both horses ran such a huge race,” said Brendan Walsh, trainer of both La Signare and Zofelle. “We ran second and third by a head. Those are really tough beats when you lose by that close of a margin but we are really proud of both of their efforts.”
Altea‘s move from the rear may have started too late, as she could only get as close as fifth by the time that she hit the wire.Juliet Foxtrot could not withstand the onslaught of closers in the stretch and faded alongside Mitchell Road to sixth and seventh, respectively.
Nay Lady Nay and Beau Recall were a head and a neck behind them, while Coco Channel nosed out Varenka for 10th. Winning Envelope, Elizabeth Way, and Hanalei Moon completed the order of finish.
Secret Message’s win came in her 2020 debut and was her third at the graded stakes level, following the 2019 Nassau Stakes (G2) and the 2018 Pucker Up Stakes (G3). The 5-year-old Hat Trick mare improved her record to 15-6-2-0 with $416,838 earned for co-owners Madaket Stables, Heider Family Stables, ERJ Racing, Elayne Stables, and Steven Bouchey.
Secret Message returned $53.40 to win, $21 to place, and $15.20 to show. La Signare brought back $22.60 to place and $15.20 to show, while Zofelle paid $7.80 to show.