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Kentucky Oaks Report
KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) was the big story over the past two weeks, but a couple of new shooters have popped up and could offer that one a real challenge come Kentucky Oaks Day. They'll have to move forward, but anything can happen in the two months leading up to the big day.
On Saturday, POMEROYS PISTOL (Pomeroy), DANCINGINHERDREAMS (Tapit) and R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) are scheduled to face off yet again, this time in the Davona Dale S. (G2). The three-year-old filly division is still seeking a clear-cut leader, and any surprise in the Davona Dale can only stir up the waters even more.
After going to all the trouble of ducking RUMOR (Indian Charlie), that filly's rivals were probably shocked to see her get beat on February 13 in her return. Trainer Richard Mandella finally found a filly race going a mile that filled for his pupil and Rumor got down to business as soon as the gates opened. Setting the pace while under pressure throughout, the bay miss appeared a winner in the stretch.
It wasn't to be, though, as KILOGRAEME (Graeme Hall) challenged on the outside in upper stretch and just got the half-length score. The Mike Mitchell charge had saved ground behind the leader before angling out for the stretch run. Now two-for-two lifetime, she could target the race that Rumor has been ruled out of -- the March 5 Santa Anita Oaks (G1).
Mandella said after the allowance test that Rumor "got a little tired." With the Santa Anita Oaks off the schedule, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) could be on the backburner as well. Barring any overnight black-type events, there are only two sophomore filly stakes left on Santa Anita's schedule -- the March 20 Santa Paula S. (G3) going 6 1/2 furlongs and the grassy Providencia S. (G2) at 1 1/8 miles on April 9. Neither appears the best spot to prep for the Kentucky Oaks.
GRANDACIOUS (Grand Slam) garnered the attention of the betting public in the February 12 Martha Washington S. at Oaklawn Park, but it was HOLY HEAVENS (Holy Bull) who put on a show in the one-mile test.
The Benard Chatters pupil was outrun and even appeared to lose touch with the field early. However, she began picking off horses by the middle of the backstretch and rapidly reached contention nearing the turn. Holy Heavens found the way blocked, but never seemed to break stride as she slid between horses while angling off the inside. She continued her momentum while wide and overtook leader Scarlet Mist (Pure Prize), eventually crossing under the wire a length in front of that rival. (Photo Courtesy Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography)
Holy Heavens has shown a definite preference for dirt tracks and a distance of ground. She never really threatened in her first four starts over Arlington Park's synthetic and turf courses, but romped by five lengths when switched to the dirt at Delta Downs in November. The chestnut made her stakes debut in the My Trusty Cat S. back at that track, but reverted in distance to seven furlongs on that occasion. Holy Heavens took up a rear-running spot and made up a lot of ground rounding the second turn, but just could not catch runaway pacesetter Gran Lioness (Lion Heart).
Oaklawn's next race in its series for three-year-old fillies is the Honeybee S. (G3) on March 12, and the 1 1/16-mile distance should be right up Holy Heavens' alley. However, there is a big question mark in my mind about the filly. Holy Heavens' final time in the Martha Washington was a pedestrian 1:42 4/5, so whether or not she's fast enough to challenge on the big stage has yet to be proven.
Grandacious was completely off her game in the Martha Washington. She challenged four wide but couldn't sustain her momentum and faded badly while going way wide around the turn. Jesse Campbell didn't persevere with her, and the bay miss loped under the line in sixth. She's not had a real break since beginning her career last August at Remington Park and may be in need of some R&R.
SUMMER SOIREE (War Front), whom I thought had a real shot in the Martha Washington, was scratched out of the race by trainer Larry Jones due to the muddy track conditions. She breezed four furlongs in :49 on February 16, after which Jones reported that she'll be "slowed down a bit," and has "nothing pressing on her right now."
KATHMANBLU spoiled us with her easy triumphs in the Golden Rod S. (G2) and Sweetest Chant S. The Kenny McPeek runner made her return to dirt in last Saturday's Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) at Fair Grounds and did not disappoint in taking the win, but it didn't look quite as brilliant as her previous scores.
The bay filly settled into a comfortable midpack spot on the backstretch and began her rally entering the stretch while still under a hand ride from Julien Leparoux. He eventually had to go to the whip, and Kathmanblu then pulled off to score by 1 1/4 lengths. She never really appeared threatened, but also didn't seem to do it under her own power. The three-year-old garnered a stellar 108 BRIS Late Pace number but her Speed rating of 92 was the lowest she's earned since taking the grassy Jessamine S. at Keeneland in October.
McPeek offered up a slight explanation following the race, saying Kathmanblu got riled up when seeing the running of the race prior to the Rachel Alexandra after it was delayed. She may have burned off some of her normal energy while being saddled in the paddock. Also the pace of the Rachel Alexandra wasn't exactly blistering, as they went a half-mile in :49 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:14 1/5. Those are more workout times than race fractions.
The filly shipped in for the Rachel Alexandra from her trainer's Florida base and is likely to return there to prepare for her next start. While the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) is still in the cards, she could stay in the Sunshine State and instead go to the April 2 Gulfstream Oaks (G2). Whatever the case, Kathmanblu probably has just one more start before the Kentucky Oaks on May 6.
INGLORIOUS (Hennessy) was making just her third career start in the Rachel Alexandra and ran an excellent race to be second in her dirt and three-year-old bow. Undefeated following scores in the Ontario Lassie S. and Fanfreluche S. over Woodbine's synthetic Polytrack, the Josie Carroll runner definitely answered the dirt question in her runner-up effort. The bay miss stuck close to Kathmanblu's heels on the way home and probably needed a race following the two-month break. Inglorious is eligible to move forward in a big way next out and the Fair Grounds Oaks could be hers for the taking if Kathmanblu stays home.
DYNAMIC HOLIDAY (Harlan's Holiday) captured the February 12 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, but the Graham Motion filly has never raced on a conventional dirt surface and I just don't see her showing up for the Kentucky Oaks.
The horse to take away from the 8 1/2-furlong affair is NIJI'S GRAND GIRL (Candy Ride [Arg]), who in my opinion ran better than expected on a surface that's not particularly her favorite. She broke from the 11 post in the 12-filly field and took up a spot in midpack while comfortably rating three wide on the backstretch. The McPeek pupil put in a nice rally nearing the wire to take third by a head while being passed late by turf runner and eventual second Holidaysatthefarm (Smarty Jones).
Niji's Grand Girl has shown a definite liking for the dirt, as evidenced by an allowance win at Gulfstream Park in an off-the-turf test and a runner-up finish in the Delta Downs Princess S. (G3). The chestnut miss appears to have the talent to compete in the upper echelons of the division, but her Speed numbers are a bit low. Of course, no one's really been posting huge numbers so Niji's Grand Girl will retain a spot on my Top 10 list following this one.
FULL MOON BLUES (Petionville) made her return to competition a decent third in the Dearly Precious S. at Aqueduct on February 12. The dark bay miss needed the race off the 77-day break and never quit in the stretch, just missing second to Breathoffreshheir (Wildcat Heir) by a head on the wire. Coax Liberty (Successful Appeal) rallied from last to score by two lengths, but the Maryland shipper seems to be more of a sprinter and will head back to Aqueduct for the Cicada S. (G3) going six furlongs on March 19.
Full Moon Blues captured the one-mile Tempted S. (G3) last season, but faded badly when stretching out in the nine-furlong Demoiselle S. (G2) next out. The three-year-old may be more of a miler and, like Coax Liberty, she's based in Maryland, so a rematch with that one in the Cicada would seem to be the sensible option.
Though the Dearly Precious doesn't appear to have offered up any Oaks contenders, Aqueduct has since produced an exciting prospect in the form of IT'S TRICKY (Mineshaft). The bay lass ran her record to a perfect three-for-three when romping by eight lengths in the Busher S. last Sunday. She tracked the pace throughout before taking command entering the stretch. It's Tricky proceeded to draw off and was soon well clear of her rivals, which made jockey Eddie Castro's tap with the whip in upper stretch completely unnecessary.
It's Tricky actually earned a decent number, unlike many this year. The filly was awarded a 99 BRIS Speed figure and a 105 Late Pace rating for her effort and could continue her Oaks quest in either the Comely S. (G3) back at Aqueduct on April 9 or the Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland on the same day. Both races have pros and cons, with the Comely staying on dirt but cutting back slightly in distance to a mile from the mile-and-70-yard Busher. The Ashland, on the other hand, will give It's Tricky a race at 1 1/16 miles but takes place on the synthetic Polytrack.
IN STEP (Unbridled's Song) captured her maiden debut in nice fashion at Gulfstream last Sunday, running down pacesetter Savvy Supreme (Distorted Humor) to score by a half-length on the wire. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee was under tight restraint down the backside while racing two wide behind the early pacesetter. She made up ground under her own power to draw even with Savvy Supreme, then was under a drive to pass that one.
Though In Step was first under the wire, the real star of the race appeared to be her entrymate, the Tom Albertrani-conditioned ENRICHMENT (Ghostzapper). The bay lass broke from the outside in the 6 1/2-furlong test and ran four wide down the backstretch while out of touch with the front runners. Still well back rounding the turn, she was encouraged to run on by Kent Desormeaux and gained like a shot down the center of the lane. A length behind the winner on the wire, Enrichment passed her fellow Darley colorbearer in the gallop out, earning a 98 BRIS Late Pace rating for her trouble.
She is out of Grade 2-winning sprinter Sahara Gold (Seeking the Gold), who is herself a daughter of 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) queen Desert Stormer (Storm Cat). Enrichment may appear destined for the sprinting ranks, but it should be noted that Sahara Gold has already produced a successful route runner in Sahara Heat (A.P. Indy), who captured the 2007 Marine S. (Can-G3) going 1 1/4 miles at Woodbine. Enrichment's sire, Ghostzapper, also started out his career running at less than a mile before showing his true colors when stretched out to nine furlongs in the Philip H. Iselin H. (G3), where he romped by 10 3/4 lengths.
A little extra ground could be just what Enrichment needs to earn her first career victory.
About five hours later across country on the West Coast, a half-sister to dual Grade 1 heroine and last year's Kentucky Oaks second Evening Jewel (Northern Afleet) broke her maiden debut at Santa Anita. MAGGIE MCGOWAN (Salt Lake) pressed the pace throughout the 5 1/2-furlong test, took command in the stretch and pulled away to be 2 1/4 lengths clear on the line. The Doug O'Neill charge appeared to do it easy, but she only earned an 87 BRIS Speed rating.
Now that could mean she didn't need to go all out to win or the dark bay miss may not be as fast as her famous older sister. Either way, Maggie McGowan is one to watch whenever she starts again.
DANCINGINHERDREAMS was billed as the main threat to Kathmanblu's supremacy in the three-year-old ranks leading up to the Forward Gal S. (G2) on January 30, but a terrible ride from Leparoux cost the gray lass the win.
Dancinginherdreams ran near the rear of the field in the Forward Gal while saving ground on the inside. POMEROYS PISTOL already had an advantage over her late-running rival after dueling for the lead throughout. Taking clear command of the race as she hit the stretch, Pomeroys Pistol proceeded to sprint away in the lane.
Dancinginherdreams was in a perfect spot to spring right after Pomeroys Pistol, but instead of waiting for the rail to open up, which it did, Leparoux angled his gray mount to the outside. Instead of making up ground, Dancinginherdreams was fanned five wide rounding the turn. She was powering home down the center of the lane, but had given Pomeroys Pistol too much of a head start. The final margin was three parts of a length, but it cost Dancinginherdreams a perfect three-for-three mark entering the Davona Dale.
The extra furlong of the one-mile Davona Dale probably would have seen Dancinginherdreams take the win. She'll be tough to hold off on Saturday, especially if Leparoux starts riding like the champion we all know he is. Pomeroys Pistol is a tough filly but I can't see her sustaining her speed past seven furlongs. The wire came just in time in the Forward Gal, and while she could pick up a share here, I'm comfortable with leaving her out of my Top 10.
R HEAT LIGHTNING needed the race in the Forward Gal while making her first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). The bay lass closely tracked the pace in her seasonal bow while four wide down the backstretch and, like Dancinginherdreams, was taken really wide around the turn. That probably cost the Todd Pletcher trainee third place as Evil Queen (Hear No Evil) maintained an inside trip to get her neck in front on the line for show honors.
Jockey John Velazquez could clearly see she wasn't going to win and took care of his mount, allowing R Heat Lightning to cross under the wire mainly under her own power. The few taps he gave her didn't hurt and probably provided just enough encouragement for her to get some good conditioning out of the race. The Davona Dale might showcase the R Heat Lightning of 2010 but more likely will continue preparing the bay lass to peak at just the right time.
HOT SUMMER (Malibu Moon) and OH CAROLE (Unbridled's Song) are intriguing stakes debutantes in the Davona Dale. The former broke her maiden at Monmouth Park in October, then easily schooled an allowance field at Parx Racing last out in November by seven lengths. She finished up that six-furlong test in 1:10 2/5 despite being geared down by rider Stewart Elliott nearing the wire. The 89-day break and stretch-out are a concern on Saturday, so it'll be interesting to see how the David Fawkes runner handles those challenges.
Oh Carole owns a slight edge in that she made her three-year-old bow in a January 30 allowance at Gulfstream Park. Tracking next to last on the backside, she circled the field on the turn and pulled away to score by 1 3/4 lengths. The Eddie Kenneally trainee earned one of the few triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings I've seen this season, posting a 103 for her effort as well as a 105 Late Pace figure.
ANGELICA ZAPATA (Sharp Humor) seems to me the only contender in Saturday's Valdale S. at Turfway Park who might have even a slight chance of going to the Kentucky Oaks.
The bay filly dominated by 5 1/2 lengths in the Cincinnati Trophy S. over the synthetic Polytrack at the Florence, Kentucky, venue last out while sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs, but does have prior dirt experience. She actually broke her maiden at Churchill Downs last November, rallying to just get her nose down on the wire. Angelica Zapata entered the stretch wide but bore in badly to be all the way at the rail by the time she crossed under the line. The extra distance of the one-mile Valdale could give a true indication of her ability.
4. R Heat Lightning
5. Turbulent Descent
7. Niji's Grand Girl
8. It's Tricky
9. Lilacs and Lace
10. Big Tiz