HENDERSON, Ky. -- Direct Line upset the showcase race of the Ellis Park meet by nailing an even pricier longshot, West Hope, in the final strides of the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia on Saturday.
With Tony Farina keeping her just behind front-running West Hope throughout the one-mile Gardenia, Direct Line, an 11-1 shot, managed a final surge in the last couple of strides to get a nose ahead of West Hope, a 36-1 shot ridden by Greta Kuntzweiler. Choragus, at 6-1, was another three lengths back in third in the field of 10 fillies and mares.
None of the top choices did any running, most notably Ravi's Song, the 9-10 favorite who trailed with a half-mile to run before finishing sixth.
Direct Line, a 4-year-old by Tiznow, is owned by G. Watts Humphrey Jr. and the St. George Farm Racing LLC of Ian Banwell. Vicky Oliver trains the filly for her father, G. Watts Humphrey Jr.
On a typically hot and humid afternoon at this 78-year-old track, West Hope, a Brazilian-bred making her third North American start, shot to the lead from post 2, while Farina tucked his mount behind her after quickly going clear of the others from post 1. While no others mounted a challenge, the top pair remained that way to the stretch, where Direct Line tipped out before proving narrowly best in a grueling drive.
Direct Line returned $24 to win after finishing in 1:38.32 over a fast track. She earned $60,000 with her first career stakes score, moving her bankroll to $160,216.
Direct Line, bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm, now has won 5 of 11 starts. She had raced twice this year, easily winning an allowance on the Gulfstream Park dirt in March before being soundly beaten in the Grade 1 Madison Stakes on the Keeneland Polytrack the next month.
After Choragus, the Gardenia order was Lady's Laughter, Irish Witch, Ravi's Song, Midway Holiday, Century Park, Secret Kin, and Tap Tap Tapping.
The was the second straight $24 winner of the Gardenia, as Whirlie Bertie paid exactly that price when she prevailed last year under the since-retired Larry Melancon.
The 1-2 exacta paid $595.60 for $2.
The Gardenia is the lone graded stakes held annually at Ellis.
* In an earlier race, Celtic New Year ($16.20), with Victor Lebron riding for trainer Chuck Peery, led throughout before barely holding off favored Joinem to win the $37,500 Bright One, an overnight handicap a mile on turf.
* Saturday was the annual "Horses and Hope" day at Ellis, with pink being worn by many employees as a means to heighten awareness of research and fund-raising for breast cancer. All 12 runners in the sixth race wore pink saddletowels in honoring that theme.