- Road to the Kentucky Derby
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Kentucky Oaks Report
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) champion Awesome Feather (Awesome of Course) is out of Kentucky Oaks (G1) consideration at this point with tendon issues. Her racing future was very much in doubt for a time, but recent news offers hope the talented bay could return to the track.
The Daily Racing Form has reported Awesome Feather, who is undefeated from her six starts as a juvenile, is currently tack-walking in new trainer Chad Brown's barn at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and could begin jogging in a couple weeks. Though she won't get to participate in the Oaks, it will be good if she can return at the same level later in the year.
A superstar has yet to step forward to take Awesome Feather's place atop the three-year-old filly ranks. Admittedly, it's only mid-February, so there's plenty of time for the next Blind Luck or Rachel Alexandra to make an appearance.
At this point, the slate's been wiped clean for 2011. I'm going to give a very brief rundown of what's happened over the past month or so and then talk about who's running over the weekend.
Starting in California, three races have taken place that could have some impact on this year's Kentucky Oaks. The first actually came in mid-December when TURBULENT DESCENT (Congrats) scored in the Hollywood Starlet S. (G1). The bay lass did it very professionally and moved her line to a perfect three-for-three with the victory. Behind her that day in fifth was ZAZU (Tapit), who had finished second to Turbulent Descent in the Moccasin S. in their prior meeting.
Turbulent Descent took a brief break following the Starlet, but Zazu showed up a month later to make her three-year-old bow in the January 15 Santa Ynez S. (G2) going seven furlongs at Santa Anita. It was the first try for the gray miss on a conventional dirt track, and she immediately took to it. Settled in last while CALIFORNIA NECTAR (Stormy Atlantic) did all the running, Zazu circled the field on the turn and threw in a stellar effort to just miss to the pacesetter by a neck on the wire. Zazu appeared for an instant ready to blow right on by, but California Nectar gutted out the victory.
Those two, Turbulent Descent, and Santa Ysabel S. (G3) victress MAY DAY ROSE (Rockport Harbor) all showed up for the one-mile Las Virgenes S. (G1) about a week ago. On a quick side note, May Day Rose led every step of the way to defeat two rivals in the Santa Ysabel, which is why I'm not counting it among the preps; it was more in the way of a paid workout.
Getting back to the Las Virgenes, it was seen as Turbulent Descent's race to lose, and that is exactly what happened. Front runners California Nectar and May Day Rose hooked up from the beginning while Turbulent Descent settled near the rear just in front of Zazu. California Nectar began fading nearing the turn, but the rest of the field was already catching up to the two leaders. Zazu got the jump on Turbulent Descent, sneaking through on the rail while her rival had to go around horses.
Entering the final turn, Zazu angled off the inside and found herself running side-by-side with Turbulent Descent. They left May Day Rose behind and battled it out through the stretch, with Zazu proving too stubborn to pass along the rail. The gray handed Turbulent Descent her first loss with the 1 1/4-length victory and finally gained a measure of revenge on their prior two face-offs.
Zazu is now headed to the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) on March 5, and one would think she'll get another shot at Turbulent Descent in that 1 1/16-mile event. Turbulent Descent needed that race off the 56-day break and trainer Mike Puype should have her much sharper with the Las Virgenes under her girth.
Turbulent Descent and Zazu have definitely separated themselves from the California crowd, and earned a spot on my top 10 list.
Continuing the journey eastward, Fair Grounds has its own series of races for three-year-old fillies, culminating in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). BOUQUET BOOTH (Flower Alley) captured the first of those in front-running fashion, recording a neck score in the January 22 Silverbulletday S. (formerly the Tiffany Lass S.). Actually, it was Bouquet Booth, DAISY DEVINE (Kafwain) and LITTLE MISS HOLLY (Maria's Mon) all the way around.
Daisy Devine put in a sustained run in the stretch, but Bouquet Booth would never relinquish the lead, eventually crossing under the wire a neck in front. It was her third straight win, following a maiden victory at Keeneland in October and the Delta Downs Princess (G3) in November, and Bouquet Booth is sitting pretty right now for the penultimate leg of Fair Grounds' three-year-old filly series, the February 19 Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) (formerly the Silverbulletday).
Last Saturday's six-furlong Tiffany Lass S. may not be a major steppingstone to Oaks glory, but WICKED DEED (Harlan's Holiday) made a case for taking a shot in the Fair Grounds Oaks following her 5 1/4-length win. It was anybody's race at the top of the stretch, but Wicked Deed pulled off under encouragement to take her stakes debut. The Steve Asmussen filly appears more of a sprinter, but the Tiffany Lass earned her the opportunity to stretch out in the 8 1/2-furlong Fair Grounds Oaks. However, she'll need to show something in that race, or while facing similar on the stretch out, before she breaks into the top 10.
A number of big name trainers head south for the winter, so Gulfstream Park always ends up with stellar competition at this time of year. KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) is just one of those who's wintered in South Florida.
The bay filly marked herself a top Oaks prospect in November when dominating the Golden Rod S. (G2) by 8 1/2 lengths under the Twin Spires. Even though trainer Kenny McPeek switched her back to the turf she didn't lose that status when making her three-year-old bow on January 22 at Gulfstream. Kathmanblu has established herself as a dual threat, winning stakes on both turf and dirt, and continued that trend in 2011 when taking the Sweetest Chant S. by 1 1/4 lengths.
Kathmanblu showed no signs of rustiness off the shelf, earning the win in professional style, and is now headed to the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds. She could return to Florida for the Gulfstream Oaks (G2) on March 19, but with her owners being from Lexington, Kentucky, there's a chance she'll show up at Keeneland on April 9 for the Ashland S. (G1). That would be her first start on a synthetic track, but thus far surface has not been an issue.
One of those Kathmanblu is expected to face in the Rachel Alexandra is GRAN LIONESS (Lion Heart), who ran fourth in the Pocahontas S. (G2) and fifth in the Golden Rod before taking the My Trusty Cat S. at Delta Downs by 3 1/4 lengths to open the year.
Unlike Gran Lioness, Pocahontas winner DANCINGINHERDREAMS (Tapit) was unable to make a winning sophomore bow when showing up at Gulfstream to finish second in the Forward Gal S. (G2) on January 30. That was the gray filly's first career loss, but she didn't lose any respect for the runner-up showing. Fanned wide after racing near the rear of the field, Dancinginherdreams just missed running down POMEROY'S PISTOL (Pomeroy) by three parts of a length.
Dancinginherdreams will get a rematch with Pomeroy's Pistol in the February 26 Davona Dale S. (G2), and the extra distance of that one-mile test might be all she needs to turn the tables. Pomeroy's Pistol shouldn't be completely discounted, though, as the Amy Tarrant runner has shown improvement in her two starts this year. She opened her sophomore season with a nice second in the six-furlong Old Hat S. (G3) on January 5 and could continue to move forward as the season progresses.
The seven-furlong Forward Gal also featured R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi), who captured last year's Spinaway S. (G1) prior to a pair of seconds in the Frizette S. (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. R Heat Lightning had no response when asked for run exiting the Forward Gal backstretch and wound up fourth under the wire. The Todd Pletcher-trained bay obviously needed the race off the near three-month break and should show much more next out.
The mile-and-70-yard Busanda S. at Aqueduct may not seem like a major prep on the road to the Kentucky Oaks, but the test has in recent years produced some Oaks runners. Last year's winner, Age of Humor (Distorted Humor), went on to finish third in the Silverbulletday (now Rachel Alexandra) and second in the Bourbonette Oaks (G3). Admittedly, she didn't do so well in the Kentucky Oaks, winding up 12th, but the 2004 Busanda winner, Island Sand, did much better with her runner-up effort in both the Fantasy S. (G2) and Kentucky Oaks.
DANCE QUIETLY (A.P. Indy) captured this year's Busanda on January 8, saving ground down on the rail and continuing in that path all the way to the wire as the 8-5 favorite. The filly, a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year and Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Saint Liam, is trained by Pletcher and a good candidate for the February 19 Busher S. Even though Pletcher already has a barn full of Oaks prospects, a good enough run in that 8 1/2-furlong contest just might push Dance Quietly into Oaks consideration.
It's early in the season, so recent maiden winners could still end up making some noise on Kentucky Oaks Day. Thus far, I've seen two that impressed me enough to mention.
The first is NAPLES BAY (Giant's Causeway), who just broke her maiden for trainer Christophe Clement in her racing debut Wednesday in the 6TH race at Gulfstream. The bay miss maneuvered her way through company before finding the way blocked briefly entering the stretch. She wasn't deterred, though, angling out and powering home a 1 1/4-length winner.
The race did take place on turf, and Clement is known as a turf conditioner, but Naples Bay is a half-sister to Medaglia d'Oro. That stallion ran fourth in the 2002 Kentucky Derby (G1), second in the Belmont S. (G1) and second in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Along the way he picked up wins in the Travers S. (G1) and Jim Dandy S. (G2), and would go on following his three-year-old season to capture the Donn H. (G1), Whitney H. (G1), Strub S. (G2) and Oaklawn H. (G2). He also placed in a second edition of the Breeders' Cup Classic as well as the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1).
Naples Bay's sire, Giant's Causeway, was a turf competitor, but his one foray onto dirt resulted in a neck second in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic. She deserves a shot on the main track.
RUMOR (Indian Charlie) actually broke her maiden on December 31 at Santa Anita, but she's been unable to race again because every race for fillies she's targeted hasn't filled. That should tell you just how impressive her debut was.
The Richard Mandella pupil contested a very quick pace of :21 2/5 and :44 during the early going of the six-furlong event. She then proceeded to draw off under her own power to score by 6 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:07 4/5.
Rumor hasn't just been sitting on her laurels waiting for a race to fill. Since her maiden she's worked four times, including a bullet half-mile move in :46 2/5 on January 21 to stay sharp. With the fillies ducking her, Mandella originally entered Rumor against the boys in the 7TH race at Santa Anita on Friday. However, that was only going six furlongs. As it turns out, a one-mile filly allowance was finally carded, and filled, for Sunday and Rumor will get the chance to compete once again.
Saturday's Florida Oaks is on the turf, so it may not offer up any runners for the Kentucky Oaks, but there are still a couple in there who deserve mention based on past dirt form. Most notable is NIJI'S GRAND GIRL (Candy Ride [Arg]), who finished second to Bouquet Booth in the Delta Downs Princess. Niji's Grand Girl saved ground near the rail while Bouquet Booth drafted just off her flank, then split horses nearing the turn. Bouquet Booth followed and eventually overcame that one and long-time leader Grandacious (Grand Slam) for the half-length victory.
Niji's Grand Girl ran well in defeat, not even switching leads until Bouquet Booth appeared on her outside. She was facing winners for the first time, having just broken her maiden at Churchill Downs by a neck. The second- and third-place runners from her one-mile maiden contest returned in their next starts to score, with third-place runner Tapit Dancer (Tapit) stretching out to 1 1/16 miles and romping by 6 1/2 lengths back at Churchill.
Trained by McPeek, Niji's Grand Girl has already made her sophomore debut, taking an off-the-turf allowance at Gulfstream Park on January 22 by 1 1/4 lengths, and appears to have a better future on dirt than turf. Despite how she runs in the Florida Oaks, she's definitely one to watch when returning to the main track.
HER SMILE (Include) will be making her turf bow in the Florida Oaks having captured the Donna Freyer S., an allowance and a maiden in her past three. Those all came at Mid-Atlantic tracks going sprint distances, but the dark bay lass did earn a pair of 91 BRIS Speed figures for her last two. The Florida Oaks will be a good distance test for Her Smile, despite being on the turf, and could offer a gauge on her true talent level.
The Dearly Precious S. at Aqueduct will go off about 20 minutes after the Florida Oaks and features a nice group of sprinters. While the six-furlong affair won't offer much insight into their distance limitations, it's a good stepping stone.
BREATHOFFRESHHEIR (Wildcat Heir) is one of two main attractions in the Dearly Precious following her 3 3/4-length tour de force in the Ruthless S. on January 2. The Ben Perkins Jr. charge had plenty of company as she led on the backstretch and didn't shake loose until entering the turn. Jockey Carlos Marques Jr. was sitting chilly the entire time and only began to urge her on in the lane. He merely had to give one tap with the whip and Breathoffreshheir kicked into another gear and bounded away.
The chestnut miss could be any kind, but based on that race appears ready to go farther. She'll have to wait until after the Dearly Precious for the opportunity to tackle a route of ground, though.
Another interesting runner in Aqueduct's Saturday feature is FULL MOON BLUES (Petionville). The dark bay filly captured the Tempted S. (G3) going a mile last November, but regressed badly in the Demoiselle S. (G2) next out. She was floated wide in the first turn, but recovered nicely to track just to the outside of pacesetter and eventual winner Dixie City (Dixie Union) on the backstretch. Nearing the final turn, though, she began backing up despite a vigorous ride from regular rider Malcolm Franklin.
The field was really separated on the wire, with the runner-up 3 1/4 lengths behind Dixie City, the third-place finisher another 11 1/2 lengths back and Full Moon Blues another 7 3/4 lengths farther back of third. She was a total of 22 1/2 lengths behind Dixie City on the wire and hasn't competed since. Trainer Tim Tullock Jr. backed off the filly for a month or so, and she only just reappeared on the worktab New Year's Day. Her past two works were bullet moves at Laurel Park, so Full Moon Blues may be ready to run back to the form that saw her dominate her maiden by 10 1/2 lengths.
A couple of hours after the Dearly Precious, nine fillies will go in the Martha Washington S. at Oaklawn Park. The mile test is the second prep in advance of the track's featured Fantasy S. (G2) on April 10. Rachel Alexandra scored in the Martha Washington by eight lengths in 2009, one year after Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Eight Belles registered a record-winning margin of 13 1/2 lengths.
Both of those went on to win the Fantasy in advance of their bids under the Twin Spires, but neither ran in the first race of the filly series at Oaklawn, the six-furlong Dixie Belle S. MAZUCAMBERA (Milwaukee Brew) and ROMA JEAN (Bandini) are both exiting that particular event, with the former getting the three-quarter length victory over Roma Jean.
Mazucambera was claimed out of her juvenile finale by trainer Martin Rouck and made her first start for her new connections in the Dixie Belle. The dark bay miss dropped back as Roma Jean contested the pace with two others. Mazucambera rallied under Alex Birzer, splitting horses in midstretch, and got the victory over Roma Jean, but the final time of 1:13 3/5 wasn't exactly inspiring. Neither were their Speed ratings, which ranged in the mid-80s.
With Oaklawn forced to cancel live racing and training a good bit this past month, preparations for the Martha Washington have been sporadic at best. Mazucambera took advantage of the last training hours offered by the Hot Springs venue, posting a :49 1/5 half-mile in the slop last Sunday, and probably holds an advantage over Roma Jean heading into this one.
Mazucambera may be able to hold Roma Jean once again, but her chances of sweeping the filly series at Oaklawn will be severely tested on Saturday when going against GRANDACIOUS and SUMMER SOIREE (War Front).
As previously discussed, Grandacious tried to wire the Delta Downs Princess in late November, but had to settle for third on the wire. She returned on January 14 back at the Vinton, Louisiana, track to be second in the rich My Trusty Cat S. but didn't get her preferred spot on the lead. The Bret Calhoun trainee earned a stellar 105 BRIS Late Pace rating for her run on that day, indicating she may not have to battle it out for pacesetting duties to factor in the Martha Washington. She also has an edge in that, while Oaklawn-based horses have been stuck in the barn for much of the winter, she's been getting regular workouts down at Fair Grounds.
Summer Soiree also likes being on the front, and based on her last race the others may not be able to keep pace. The bay lass is trained by Larry Jones, who conditioned eventual champion Proud Spell to victory in the Kentucky Oaks one day before stablemate Eight Belles' tragic run in the Derby. Jones excels with the fillies, and Summer Soiree appears to be another star in the making.
She broke her maiden at Delaware Park for Jones' wife, Cindy, in August, and made her first start for Jones' reopened stable on January 30 at Oaklawn. That 1 1/16-mile event saw the three-year-old immediately go for the lead while under a snug hold from jockey Gabriel Saez. She was briefly challenged on the backstretch, but quickly tugged her way back into the clear before reaching the half-mile point. Summer Soiree was easily the best, but for some reason Saez gave her a few taps with the whip in the lane. That resulted in the filly drawing away by 9 3/4 lengths on the wire and earning a nice 95 Speed rating.
There are a couple of other nice runners in the Martha Washington, including Fair Grounds allowance scorer MISS KINDERHOOK (Pleasantly Perfect), but if Summer Soiree runs back to her last race, she could give Jones yet another Oaklawn stakes win.
2. Bouquet Booth
5. Turbulent Descent
6. Niji's Grand Girl
8. R Heat Lightning
9. Lilacs and Lace
10. Big Tiz