Benner Island gallantly fought off the late charge of Union Strike to take the $200,000 Eight Belles S. (G2) by a head on a rainy Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
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The victory was the first in a stakes for the 3-year-old Speightstown filly, who had finished second in the Honeybee S. (G3) in March at Oaklawn Park.
Benner Island earned the distinction of being Speightstown's 80th lifetime stakes winner and his 135th black type horse worldwide.
The win didn't come easy for the bay filly. Breaking sharply from post 12, she hustled early to engage Lovely Bernadette for the lead. The pair battled through a half-mile in :45.78 seconds, when Lovely Bernadette quickly began to fade. Golden Mischief and Union Strike loomed large shortly thereafter for the drive to the finish. Benner Island dug in to hold off Union Strike, stopping the timer in 1:24.28 for the seven furlongs on a sloppy track.
“The track is a little speed favoring and I used my horse a little bit early to put her in a good position, especially considering the race was seven-eighths (of a mile),” said rider Javier Castellano. “She fought very hard down the stretch.”
Benner Island improved her earnings to $235,863 for owner Shortleaf Stable. Her record now stands at 3-2-0 in eight starts.
Benner Island was bred in Kentucky by Mercedes Stables and is a daughter of Top Flight H. (G2) winner Spacy Tracy.