(Played Hard / All Photos by Holly M. Smith)
From the Churchill Downs Media Team:
Rigney Racing’s Played Hard broke on top, dictated the pace and turned back challenges at the top of the stretch from Bellamore and Moon Swag to draw clear late and win Thursday’s 107th running of the $485,000 Falls City (Grade III), the traditional Thanksgiving Day fixture for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Phil Bauer and ridden by Joel Rosario, Played Hard ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:49.39 while defeating Bellamore by one length in wire-to-wire fashion.
Breaking from post four in the field of six fillies and mares, Played Hard maintained a length advantage over Leader of the Band down the backstretch while setting quarter-mile splits of :23.71, :47.43 and 1:11.43. Leader of the Band gave way leaving the turn as Bellamore, from the outside, and Moon Swag, from the inside, ranged into contention. Played Hard cut the final turn wide and had plenty left as she opened up down the stretch for the one-length victory as the odds-on 2-5 favorite.
“She keeps getting better,” Rosario said. “She fought hard on the lead and didn’t want to give it up. There were a couple horses that got close to her but she never gave way.”
This marked Played Hard’s second graded stakes win in her last three starts, both coming at Churchill Downs. In September, she scored a comfortable 5 ¾-length win in the $393,000 Locust Grove (GIII) for her first graded stakes triumph.
“I’m actually pretty speechless right now,” Bauer said. “This is what it’s all about. You win a half-million dollar race on your home track with your family and the greatest owner (Richard Rigney) in attendance. It can’t get much better on Thanksgiving. I’m so proud of Played Hard. She pinned her ears back and didn’t want to let anyone by.”
Prior to Thursday’s Falls City, Played Hard finished third behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) winner Malathaat and Army Wife in the $600,000 Spinster (GI) at Keeneland on Oct. 9.
“Things didn’t work out last time in the Spinster but we got her back to Churchill and she loves it here,” Bauer said. “We’re excited to keep her in training next year.”
Played Hard paid $2.90, $2.44 and $2.10. Bellamore, the 10-1 fourth betting choice ridden by Martin Garcia, returned $6.14 and $4.06. She’s All Wolfe closed late to finish another five lengths back in third at odds of 17-1 under Joe Rocco Jr. and paid $4.94.
Moon Swag, Leader of the Band and Ava’s Grace completed the order of finish.
With the Falls City win, Played Hard improved her overall record to five wins, five seconds and two thirds in 14 starts. Thursday’s lofty $305,520 first prize jumped her earnings to near-millionaire status at $978,390.
Bauer said the goal for Played Hard in 2023 is to secure a Grade I win.
Played Hard is a 4-year-old bay daughter of Into Mischief out of the Tiznow mare Well Lived. She was bred in Kentucky by Susan Casner.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Friday with the popular day-after Thanksgiving card highlighted by the 148th running of the $750,000 Clark presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) for older horses, featuring Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. The Clark goes as Race 11 of 12 at approximately 5:56 p.m. (all times Eastern). The first race is 1 p.m.
FALLS CITY QUOTES
Joel Rosario (jockey, Played Hard, winner) – “She keeps getting better. She fought hard on the lead and didn’t want to give it up. There were a couple horses that got close to her but she never gave way.”
Phil Bauer (trainer, Played Hard, winner) – “I’m actually pretty speechless right now. This is what it’s all about. You win a half-million dollar race on your home track with your family and the greatest owner in attendance. It can’t get much better on Thanksgiving. I’m so proud of Played Hard. She pinned her ears back and didn’t want to let anyone by. Things didn’t work out last time in the Spinster but we got her back to Churchill and she loves it here. We’re excited to keep her in training next year.”