Trained by Phil Bauer and ridden by Joel Rosario, Played Hard ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.39 while defeating Bellamore by one length in gate-to-wire fashion.
After breaking away from fourth place in a field of six fillies and mares, Played Hard maintained a one-length advantage over Leader of the Band down the backstretch while setting a quarter mile of:23.71, :47.43, and 1:11.43. Squad Leader gave way leaving the turn while Bellamore feuded on the outside and Moon Swag on the inside. She played aggressively cutting the final turn wide and had plenty left as she opened up the stretch to win by one length as the favourite.
“It just keeps getting better,” said Rosario. “She fought hard for the lead and didn’t want to give it up. There were two horses that came close to her, but she never gave up.”
The victory marked Played Hard’s second graded win in her last three starts, both of which come at Churchill Downs. In September she recorded a comfortable 5 length win at Locust Grove (G3) for her first Graded Stakes victory.
“I am actually speechless right now,” Bauer said. “And that’s it. You win a half-million dollar race at your home track with your family and the greatest owner (Richard Rigney) in attendance. It couldn’t be much better at Thanksgiving. I’m so proud I played so hard. She pulled her ears back and didn’t want to let any someone to pass by.”
Ahead of Thursday’s Falls City, Played Hard finished third behind Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Malathat (G1) and Spinster (G1) Army Wife at Keeneland on 9 October.
“It didn’t go well last time on Spinster, but we brought it 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. Ridden by Martin Garcia, Bellamore, the 10-1 fourth betting option, edged She’s All Wolfe, who was in third place by another five lengths under Joe Rocco Jr..
Moon Swag, Leader of the Band, and Ava’s Grace complete the ending arrangement.
With the Falls City win, Played Hard improved their overall record to five wins and five two-thirds in 14 starts. The winner’s share of $305,520 on Thursday increased her winnings to nearly millionaire status at $978,390.
Bauer said Played Hard’s goal in 2023 is to secure a Grade 1 victory.
Played Hard is a 4 year old Khaliji daughter of Into Mischief from Tiznow mare Well Lived. She was bred in Kentucky by Suzanne Kasner and was sold to Rigney Racing for $280,000 at Keeneland Auction September 2019 Four Star Sales Delivered.