LEXINGTON, Ky. - Phil Sims has been based at Keeneland during the vast majority of his 30 years of training racehorses. Saturday, Sims didn't have to go anywhere to get the thrill of his career when Hot Cha Cha, ridden by James Graham, stormed through an inside opening when straightening for home and drew clear to a 4 1/2-length romp in the 26th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.
Hot Cha Cha, a daughter of Cactus Ridge, returned $19 as fourth choice in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies. She completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.09 over a turf course rated soft.
Shared Account, who set the pace under Edgar Prado, finished second, another 1 1/2 lengths before Gozzip Girl, the 7-10 favorite. Gozzip Girl, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, moved to challenge for the lead approaching the quarter pole but was unable to sustain the bid. Miss World finished fourth, followed by Lady Shakespeare, Hameildaeme, and Blind Date.
Hot Cha Cha was bred and is owned by Nelson McMakin, a longtime Lexington horseman who has had runners with Sims for years. "I told Phil I wanted to win the Derby," said McMakin, "but this is pretty close."
"We've been together a lot of years, and this is the best win we've ever had," said Sims, who posted easily his richest career victory.
Down the backstretch, Shared Account loped along on the lead, with Gozzip Girl edging closer after being kept wide on the first turn. Meanwhile, Hot Cha Cha was saving ground a couple lengths off the leaders, and after an opening presented itself late in the final turn, Graham said he "pushed the button. I might've done so a little early, but if I hadn't, the hole might've closed up on me. When I did get through, she just exploded. She's a lovely filly."
Graham had ridden Hot Cha Cha just once before, and that was in her previous race, a rallying victory in the Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes on the Arlington Park turf Sept. 7. Hot Cha Cha now has won 5 of 11 career starts and more than doubled her bankroll by earning $300,000, giving her a total of $585,566.
"She's just getting better and better," said Sims.
Hot Cha Cha was the only local runner in a race otherwise filled by horses from New York, California, Maryland, and Canada.
El Brujo draws off in Perryville
El Brujo, with last-minute replacement Edgar Prado aboard, split rivals leaving the eighth pole to draw clear of a three-horse photo for second Saturday in the Grade 3 Perryville Stakes at Keeneland.
Back from Canada for the Windways Farm of Jeff Begg and trainer Malcolm Pierce, El Brujo returned $7.20 as second choice when finishing 1 1/4 lengths before Not for Silver. It was just a nose to Conchacer in third and another nose to Evolutionist.
Prado got the mount after Robby Albarado was shaken up following a spill at the start of the previous race, a turf allowance. Albarado, who walked off the turf course shortly after being thrown, was reported by Keeneland to have sustained facial abrasions and was transported to a nearby hospital for observation.
Warrior's Reward, the even-money favorite in the field of seven 3-year-olds, finished fifth and was vanned off after the race with an unspecified injury. Warrior's Reward took the lead down the backstretch but had no response when the field began to bunch at the quarter pole.
El Brujo, an Ontario-bred gelding by Candy Ride, finished about seven furlongs in 1:25.95 over Polytrack. He now has 6 wins and 4 seconds from 13 career starts.
"This is about as far as he wants to go," said Pierce, who sent El Brujo from his Toronto base to win the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint three weeks earlier. "We'll take him home. He'll be a handy 4-year-old Canadian-bred."
The Perryville was run about an hour before the Saturday feature, the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old turf fillies.
* Flashing and Pretty Prolific, the respective one-two finishers in the Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga, head the prospective field for the highlight of the coming week at Keeneland, the Grade 2, $300,000 Raven Run on Saturday.
* Trainer Ken McPeek is shipping his contingent of Breeders' Cup prospects from Kentucky to Santa Anita on Monday. Among that group is BC Juvenile Turf hopeful Bridgetown, who worked five furlongs here Saturday in 1:01.