Greetings Race Fans,
The temperature, humidity and adrenaline levels were all elevated on Friday, August 26 at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky. Eight fillies and mares lined up for a turf sprint that turned out to be hotter than a Midwest heat wave.
Cocoa Bandita broke smoothly with James Graham in the driver’s seat. #4 Donna’s Holiday was on a mission to capture and keep the lead as she and #1 Cam and Con’s Girl blistered the first quarter in 21:78. #2 Aftermarketspoiler joined the fray and those three fired off a 44:06 half mile. Cocoa and Graham were tucked in to save ground while never far back, content to follow in 4th and 5th place. As the field left the final bend Graham angled CB out for a clear run at the speed burners. #3 Henry’s Song made a spirited move as she and Cam Con’s Girl fought past a tiring Donna’s Holiday. Graham now had Cocoa locked and loaded as our filly rallied between horses, passing Aftermarketspoiler then reeling in Donna’s Holiday. Making up ground with every powerful stride Cocoa closed gamely on the leaders but ran out of running room, finishing a persistent third only 2 1/2 lengths behind the gold medal winner CamCon’s Girl. The final time of 1:02.13 was just a second and a half off the course record.
Trainer Dawn Martin and I spoke with James Graham on our way back to the paddock. Instead of the usual jockey excuses for problems the horse encountered, Graham accepted full responsibility for finishing third. If he could rerun the race James said he would have encouraged Cocoa to challenge for the lead instead of laying off the pace. He felt CB may have had enough left to hold off the speed to win.
We in no way blame Graham but his candid tactical analysis was refreshing. It is easy to second guess or question yourself after a race or sporting event but this was his first opportunity to ride Cocoa and her first time on turf. Graham has the reputation of providing an honest ride every time he gets a mount.
We have a great deal of respect for James Graham and even more for Cocoa. Connections gleaned much from this race, CB is determined, durable and versatile…we are pleased with her bronze medal on blue grass!