The Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained 6-year-old Harlington mare, who finished a close third in last year’s edition of the 1 1/16-mile stakes for older fillies and mares after being claimed for $25,000 two starts earlier, also capitalized from a brave, ground-saving ride by Corey Lanerie to pull off a 29-1 upset.
Queen Nekia rated well off a strong pace contested by 3-2 favorite Mrs. Danvers and the Joseph-trained Gibberish, who set fractions of :23.31 and :46.48 for the first half-mile. Gibberish continued to turn back Mrs. Danvers’ outside challenge into the homestretch turn, but Eres Tu, the 2-1 second betting choice, made a sweeping move around them entering the stretch and appeared on her way to her fourth straight win. The new leader seemed to stall upon getting a clear lead at the top of the stretch and suddenly came under attack from Queen Nekia, who rallied strongly along the rail and drew away by 1 3/4 lengths.
“It set up good. I saw a little pace on paper, and she broke really good. I was trying to get over to the rail, and then finally I just kind of let all the speed go and got back a little bit, probably a little bit further than I wanted to,” said Lanerie following his third victory of the day. “When I called on her, I had a lot of horse.”
Eres Tu finished second under Irad Ortiz Jr., 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place Bajan Girl. Gibberish finished fourth and Mrs. Danvers checked in fifth.
Queen Nekia ($60.60), who ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.62, had most recently finished fourth behind stablemate Gibberish in the Treasure Chest Stakes at Delta Downs Nov. 27.
“(For) both horses, since they ran together at Delta Downs, this has been the intended target—give them a freshening and train them together. Gibberish, I don’t think she was at her best, plus I think the pace didn’t help her,” Joseph said. “Queen Nekia finished third last year. She’s a deserving winner. She’s a filly that deserved a grade 3. She’s a filly we claimed for $25,000, and this makes her so much more valuable.”
Bred in Florida by Porter Racing Stable, Queen Nekia is the first black-type winner out of the stakes-winning Double Honor mare All Night Labor, whose other winner from three foals to race is Nekia’s First Lady (First Dude ), an earner of $33,900. All Night Labor also has an unraced 2-year-old colt named Neigh Dude, also by First Dude. She was reported bred to Adios Charlie for 2021.
Queen Nekia was a $22,000 purchase by trainer Steve Epley Jr. from the Walnut Hill Racing consignment at the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling Sale. She initially competed for Epley and owner Chemphar in the Mid-Atlantic region before racing for Pecoraro Stable and trainer Anthony Pecoraro following a claim. Saffie claimed her in December 2019.
Last year for her current connections she won two of nine starts, including the Dance to Bristol Stakes at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Saturday’s race was her first race of 2021.