By Ken Weingartner
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nike Franco N handed award-winning Lady Shadow her first loss of the year, battling through the stretch to wear down the even-money favorite and win Saturday’s $201,000 Golden Girls for pacing mares by three-quarters of a length in 2:01.2 for the mile and an eighth distance at the Meadowlands.
The 2-1 second choice and driver Tim Tetrick led the 11-horse field to the opening quarter in :26.1 before yielding the top spot to Lady Shadow, a returning Dan Patch and O’Brien Award winner who was unbeaten in five starts this season, who set fractions of :54.2 to the half, 1:22 to three-quarters and 1:48.1 for the mile.
In the stretch, Nike Franco N moved to the outside and methodically cut into Lady Shadow’s lead until reaching the front as the duo neared the wire. She paid $6.80 to win. It was 4¼ lengths back to third-place finisher Call Me Queen Be.
Nike Franco N, a New Zealand-bred 7-year-old, has won eight of 13 races since arriving in North America last October. The Golden Girls was her first U.S. stakes triumph.
“We knew she was capable of this and when I saw she was getting a trip behind that great Lady Shadow, I said, ‘This is our night’,” said Jo Ann Looney-King, who trains Nike Franco N for owner Richard Poillucci.
“Richard has been buying us some of the top pacers from Down Under. He picks his own horses out, he sends them to us. We simply go with the wonderful horses he buys for us.”
Nike Franco N, a daughter of McArdle-Nearea Franco, has won 26 of 46 career races and earned $571,672. Her North American earnings are $250,279.