By Josh Cook
Todd Pletcher's Phola rallied from last to first to win the Grade II $223,200 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Phola surged past Hot Cha Cha for the 1 1/4-length victory. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Johannesburg out of Petionville mare Humbling (IRE) covered the distance in 1 minute, 38.35 seconds on a "yielding" Matt Winn Turf Course.
It was the first Churchill Distaff Turf Mile victory for Pletcher, the trainer.
"We had a great trip," Phola jockey Ramon Dominguez said. "The filly definitely loves soft going. Todd asked me to ride her pretty much like we did last time. She's so easy on herself. The ground is so soft, you don't really know what you have until you send her. When you ask her she's got a three-sixteenths quarter of a mile (kick)."
At the sixteenth pole Phola overtook Hot Cha Cha, who had passed Cure for Sale at the eighth pole.
Phola paid $15.40, $6.80 and $4.60. The win, her fifth in 11 career starts, was worth $135,616 and brought her career earnings to $330,161.
"We handled soft ground at Tampa last time out, so we were optimistic that she'd handle it today, though this is softer than she ran on before," Pletcher said. "She's just a filly who's finding herself and getting good. She's getting better and better with every race."
Hot Cha Cha paid $5.20 and $4.00.
"I thought coming out of the turn they would have to chase me, but they just came and got us late," Hot Cha Cha jockey James Graham said. "My filly never stopped running though."
Miss Keller (IRE) paid $6.20 to show.
"When Phola got to the quarter pole turning for home she got a big jump," Miss Keller jockey Javier Castellano said. "When I asked my filly, she didn't take off. She took a couple of strides to get going. When she got in stride she finished very strong, but it was too late."
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