Keen Pauline's trainer missed his flight, but the 3-year-old filly didn't miss a step in Friday's $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
After finishing second twice and third once in her first five starts, the Kentucky-bred and trained horse went wire-to-wire in winning her first stakes race.
Squeezing back favorite Luminance before the first turn, Keen Pauline took lead and never lost it. Challenged by local favorite Gypsy Judy until the homestretch, Keen Pauline showed an extra gear in pulling away from Ahh Chocolate to win by nearly three lengths.
At 15-1 as the longest shot in the nine-horse field, Keen Pauline won the 1 1/8-mile race in a comfortable 1 minute, 50.46 seconds, paying $32.80 to win. Include Betty finished second and Ahh Chocolate came in third.
Barbara Banke, whose Stonestreet Stables owns Keen Pauline, said the horse named after her 86-year-old mother finally lived up to the confidence veteran trainer Dale Romans had shown despite mixed results, including a 10th-place finish in her first race as a 2-year-old.
"Dale kept saying she has a great race in her and I would say, 'Yeah, Dale,' " Banke said with a smile. "Today she did. She's been in the money, but she didn't show what she did today. She's been working up to it. … It's inspiring."
It was the first Black-Eyed Susan Stakes win for Romans, who never made it to Baltimore after missing his flight from Louisville on Friday afternoon.
Assistant trainer Tammy Fox, who has worked and lived with Romans for a quarter-century, said it helped make up for what Romans believed should have been his first win in the Preakness prelude.
That happened in 2006, when Smart N Pretty led the Black-Eyed Susan from wire-to-wire only to be disqualified. Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. protested, saying it was Regal Engagement and jockey Ramon Dominguez who had bumped his filly's "hind end and turned me sideways."
Regal Engagement and Dominguez went to the winner's circle and Smart N Pretty was knocked to second place. Though Romans said at the time "it could have gone either way", Fox recalled a later conversation her longtime partner had with Dominguez.
"About a year later, he asked Ramon Dominguez if the horse should have come down and he said, 'No,' " Fox said Friday.
Of jockey Javier Castellano's ride on their horse this time, Fox said, "What can you say? You have the best of the best on the horse. He knew how fast he was going. That helped a lot. When you see a horse's ears pricked like that, and he's sitting [in the lead] ... he did a great job on her."
Castellano said Keen Pauline surprised even him by taking the early lead.
"You have to take advantage of anything that happened in the race. That's a hard race," Castellano said. "I didn't expect to be in the lead. I saw a lot of speed in the race. I think Martin Garcia, the [No]. 8 horse [Luminance], he got the speed and I thought he was going to dictate the pace. He broke OK. He didn't send his horse to the lead. My horse broke so well out of the gate. I dictated the pace myself to go with the winner and enjoy the ride."
Said Fox: "She did it really easy. When she broke out of the gate and she made the lead like she did, I knew she was going to run good. On the backstretch, I knew Javier still had a lot of horse underneath him and I was pretty confident, especially when she spurted for home."
Even when the horse was challenged by Gypsy Judy, who stayed close until the homestretch before eventually fading to eighth, Castellano didn't think she would relinquish the lead when Ahh Chocolate came within a head.
"It was so relaxed on the first quarter. On the second quarter, she just galloped along," Castellano said. "When the other horses tried to catch up, I asked her she give it to me. The further she goes, I think she was going to be better."
The victory was also satisfying for Banke, who watched another of her fillies, Rachel Alexandra, win the 2009 Preakness. Banke said it was especially pleasing since Keen Pauline is named after her mother, who will turn 87 in a couple of weeks.
Like Romans, Pauline Banke wasn't at Pimlico on Friday to celebrate her namesake's first stakes victory. And like her horse, Banke's octogenarian mom also still has a lot of pep. According to her daughter, the elder Banke was in Los Angeles attending her high school reunion.
Barbara Banke has named a couple of fillies after her mother.
"From now on, I'm just going to name them all Pauline," Banke said.