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Kentucky Oaks Report
R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) returned to form when trouncing her Davona Dale S. (G2) rivals last Saturday at Gulfstream Park and is looking good for this year's Kentucky Oaks (G1). DANCINGINHERDREAMS (Tapit) gained a measure of revenge against POMEROYS PISTOL (Pomeroy) when holding that rival to third by a head in the one-mile test, but neither could withstand the Lightning strike.
Besides the Davona Dale, last week didn't yield much in the way of Oaks contenders, though a nice new maiden winner did pop up at Gulfstream on Wednesday.
The above is a header you'll likely only see once more, and that's when the Sunland Park Oaks rolls around later this month. On Sunday, though, Sunland Park hosted the Island Fashion S., sending sophomore fillies one mile and offering them a good final prep for the Sunland Park Oaks.
GOLDEN SPRINGS (Pomeroy) wasn't given much chance in the race. The betting public sent her off as the 42-1 longest shot in the nine-filly field, and with good reason. The dark bay lass hadn't visited the winner's circle in seven races since breaking her maiden against claiming rivals at Lone Star Park last June. She's been well beaten on a number of occasions, including her race prior to the Island Fashion.
On Sunday, the Joyce Salisbury runner showed a new dimension when tracking the early pace set by stablemate and fellow longshot Icelain Diva (El Corredor). Golden Springs stayed just off that one's flank on the backside before drawing even as they neared the turn. The two were well within reach of the majority of the field, which had stayed in contact on the backstretch. Golden Springs came under a ride entering the stretch while about four wide and just ran down Icelain Diva while holding Formal Plan (Formal Gold) by a nose on the wire.
Golden Springs was making her two-turn debut in the Island Fashion, which could have attributed to her surprising form reverse. She may have earned her shot at the Sunland Park Oaks, but I just can't see anyone in this field truly being a threat on the Kentucky Oaks trail. The lass only earned a 79 BRIS Speed rating, and while numbers have been low in general this season, one would hope the contenders would do better than that. Better you should take the Island Fashion for what it is, the final prep race for what is likely these fillies' main goal, the Sunland Park Oaks.
Anyone who's ever read one of my Breeders' Cup diaries or past Oaks reports should know that I'm not a fan of synthetic tracks. Sunday offered up an example of why when HARLAN'S RUBY (Harlan's Holiday) captured the Valdale S. by 1 1/2 lengths over the Polytrack at Turfway Park. The filly herself is pretty nice, but her chances on May 6, if she even goes, aren't that good based on past dirt tries.
Maegans Princesses (Yankee Gentleman), Touch Screen (Bandini) and Golden Phoenix (Suave) hooked up from the beginning and battled it out through the opening quarter on the front end. Maegans Princesses was the first to fade, and the other two were quickly overtaken by Jelly Cable (Sky Mesa) and Harlan's Ruby on their outside.
Jelly Cable led the way into the stretch, but a few taps from the whip was all it took for Harlan's Ruby to draw even. Jelly Cable was game down on the rail, forcing Harlan's Ruby to dig deep to pass, and held well late to be third, just a head behind the closing runner-up Kitten's Dancer (Kitten's Joy). It was another head back to fourth-placer Angelica Zapata (Sharp Humor), who had rallied with Kitten's Dancer but ran out of ground late.
Harlan's Ruby has done well for herself on both turf and the Polytrack at Turfway and Keeneland, but her two forays on dirt tracks resulted in well-beaten finishes. Kitten's Dancer and Jelly Cable were both exiting nice debut victories at Turfway, while Angelica Zapata was a 5 1/2-length scorer of the Cincinnati Trophy S. over the Polytrack on January 22. While Harlan's Ruby has already been penciled in for the March 26 Bourbonette Oaks (G3), any one of these four could show up to win that eight-furlong test.
Who shouldn't show up are Maegans Princesses and Golden Phoenix, both nice winners over conventional dirt tracks. The pair finished ninth and seventh, respectively, in the Valdale. Of the Valdale top four, Angelica Zapata seems to have the best shot at the Kentucky Oaks starting gate. The bay miss broke her maiden at Churchill last November while earnings an 80 BRIS Speed rating.
For a bit of history, there have been five runnings of the Bourbonette since Turfway switched to Polytrack. Of those five winners, only two went on to the Kentucky Oaks, with Top Notch Lady finishing eighth in 2006 and Sealy Hill checking in 12th for the 2007 edition. Sealy Hill would go on to be named Canadian Horse of the Year in 2007 after being switched to the turf. Hot Cha Cha (Cactus Ridge), winner of the 2009 Bourbonette Oaks, would also find a home on the turf when taking the 2009 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and running fifth by just 1 3/4 lengths in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Unlike the above two, Saturday's Davona Dale holds a good chance at producing the Kentucky Oaks winner. R HEAT LIGHTNING was a stellar performer as a juvenile and, though she suffered her first off-the-board performance when making her sophomore bow in the Forward Gal S. (G2), proved she'd held onto her two-year-old form when drawing off to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Davona Dale.
Hot Summer (Malibu Moon) led the way on the backstretch of the Davona Dale, with POMEROYS PISTOL keeping in close attendance. DANCINGINHERDREAMS, who had previously displayed a preference for taking back and rallying at the end, was rating just off the flank of Pomeroys Pistol, while OH CAROLE (Unbridled's Song) and R Heat Lightning kept each other company in behind.
Dancinginherdreams dropped back a little before entering the turn, but was still closer than normal as those five began the run into the stretch. Hot Summer started to fade exiting the turn, and R Heat Lightning took full advantage to slip through on the inside of Pomeroys Pistol. While Dancinginherdreams put in her run four wide, R Heat Lightning unleashed a monstrous turn of foot on the rail that saw her easily draw away beneath jockey John Velazquez.
Pomeroys Pistol was game in defeat, just going down by a head to Dancinginherdreams, and Oh Carole completed the superfecta in her stakes bow.
R Heat Lightning showed much the same acceleration as when she captured last year's Spinaway S. (G1) at Saratoga by four lengths. The Todd Pletcher pupil was much farther back in that seven-furlong test, and rallied down the center of the track under a hand ride from Garrett Gomez to score. Sunday's Davona Dale victory earned her a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating, the best number I've seen thrown up by an Oaks hopeful thus far this year. My only concern is that R Heat Lightning not hit her peak before the Kentucky Oaks rolls around. She'll likely show up next in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) on April 2. (Photo Courtesy of Adam Coglianese)
Pomeroys Pistol earned a spot on my Top 10 list with her Davona Dale performance. The Amy Tarrant runner has proven a tough competitor this spring and deserves a shot at Oaks glory. Dancinginherdreams disappointed a little by finishing so far back, but this was only her fourth lifetime start. There's a lot of room for improvement and two months for that to happen in. Oh Carole could also jump up in a big way after posting only her third career start in the Davona Dale. The bay miss earned a 103 BRIS Speed rating when making her dirt debut at Gulfstream on January 30 and could be closer at the finish if she goes in the Gulfstream Park Oaks next.
HOLIDAY FLARE (Harlan's Holiday) made her sophomore bow on Wednesday in the 4TH race at Gulfstream Park and broke her maiden in the six-furlong event after dueling throughout. The dark bay lass hooked up with Heir to Dare (Wildcat Heir) from the beginning, and the pair quickly drew clear of the field on the backstretch. Neither one would yield through splits of :22 2/5, :45 2/5 and :57 2/5.
They continued their battle into the stretch, with Holiday Flare just pulling away to score by three parts of a length on the wire. She finished up the one-turn test in 1:10 under Velazquez, giving Pletcher yet another nice three-year-old filly.
Holiday Flare was awarded a 97 BRIS Speed rating for her effort, which is better than what's been posted by some stakes winners this year. The filly needs to prove herself against stakes competition before being named a real Oaks contender, but there are plenty of chances out there for that to happen. She wasn't listed as one of the 117 when the Kentucky Oaks nominations came out on Thursday, but Churchill Downs has instituted a late nomination period for the first time this year for the race. Holiday Flare can still get in the hunt for the Oaks.
Santa Anita Oaks
Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks (G1) will only feature five runners, but that's all the race needs. Any one of the five could find themselves in the winner's circle when the contest is completed, and many are looking for TURBULENT DESCENT (Congrats) to avenge her loss to ZAZU (Tapit) from the February 5 Las Virgenes S. (G1).
Turbulent Descent was undefeated prior to the Las Virgenes, including a pair wins over Zazu in the Hollywood Starlet S. (G1) and Moccasin S. She entered that one-mile test off a two-month break and, though she hooked Zazu in the stretch, just could not reel in her rival. The Mike Puype pupil has been posting sharp works in the interim, and probably needed the race following the layoff. Turbulent Descent should be much sharper for the Santa Anita Oaks.
Zazu has shown new life after running on Santa Anita's dirt surface. Though no slouch as a juvenile when breaking her maiden and finishing second in an allowance on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, the gray miss has earned consecutive 96 BRIS Speed ratings since the current meet at Santa Anita has begun. She just missed by a neck when rallying in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez S. (G2), but briefly lost touch with the field on the backstretch of that race and had to make up a lot of ground late. The lass was forced to circle the field on the turn and flew home, but just ran out of time to catch the loose on the lead California Nectar (Stormy Atlantic). The stretch-out to a mile in the Las Virgenes was exactly what Zazu needed, and the extra sixteenth of a mile in the Santa Anita Oaks should also be right up her alley.
A Z WARRIOR (Bernardini) may be in the same position that Turbulent Descent occupied in the Las Virgenes, i.e. needing a race off the break. The Bob Baffert trainee captured last year's Frizette S. (G1) at Belmont Park before tiring to last of 12 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). That could have been the result of a long season and the dark bay was given four months to recover before making her reappearance in Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks. A good-enough run could see Baffert targeting another race in April before sending A Z Warrior to the Kentucky Oaks.
MAY DAY ROSE (Rockport Harbor) hasn't shown the same brilliance as Zazu and Turbulent Descent, but the bay filly could still steal the show if she gets away with an uncontested lead. That happened in the Santa Ysabel S. (G3), and the Baffert runner led all the way home. A February 24 bullet five-furlong move in :57 4/5 only underlines the fact that May Day Rose should not be discounted on Saturday.
KILOGRAEME (Graeme Hall) rounds out the Santa Anita Oaks field, and the chestnut lass is an interesting prospect. A half-length maiden and allowance winner in her only two races thus far, the Mike Mitchell charge defeated the highly regarded Rumor (Indian Charlie) in her latest trip to the racetrack. The chances of her keeping her unbeaten mark perfect against these at this point in her career are low, but stranger things have happened. A top three finish is well within Kilograeme's talent level.
Saturday's seven-furlong Wide Country S. at Laurel Park would appear to be a sprinters-only affair if not for the presence of SASSY NUMBER (Include). The chestnut filly broke her maiden going about 1 1/16 miles over the track in December, then returned a month later to take an optional claiming test by a nose while going a mile.
Sassy Number will be making her three-year-old bow in the Wide Country and seems more of a Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) candidate than Kentucky Oaks runner.
1. R Heat Lightning
4. Turbulent Descent
6. Pomeroys Pistol
7. Niji's Grand Girl
8. It's Tricky
9. Oh Carole