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Kentucky Oaks Report
Last week was pretty light in terms of Kentucky Oaks (G1) preps, but this weekend more than makes up for it. With the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), Bourbonette Oaks (G3) and Sunland Park Oaks all scheduled, the Oaks trail is heating up again.
The Santa Paula S., which was downgraded from Grade 3 status this year, featured a field of six fillies last Sunday and turned into yet another easy win for the up-and-coming MILDLY OFFENSIVE (Sharp Humor).
Breaking from the far outside post, the dark bay lass sprinted to the front but settled into third as California Nectar (Stormy Atlantic) and Tiz the Route (Tiznow) moved up to duel through the opening quarter. Jockey Rafael Bejarano let out a notch on Mildly Offensive and the Carla Gaines pupil quickly repositioned herself back into contention on the outside of those two on the backside. She took command rounding the turn while still under a hold, then sloshed home an easy 4 1/4-length winner under a hand ride.
Mildly Offensive recorded the same exact margin in the Santa Paula as she did when breaking her maiden on February 19 over a wet-fast surface at Santa Anita. In that six-furlong contest, the filly battled on the lead before drawing clear in the stretch. She has a quick turn of foot, seeming to hit another gear in the lane, and continues to progress nicely.
There's nothing left on the Santa Anita schedule for Mildly Offensive, unless Gaines decides to send her to the grassy Providencia S. (G2) going nine furlongs on April 9 and I just can't see that happening. She is, however, nominated to the Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland on the same day, and that 1 1/16-mile test would be a good spot to see how well she handles a distance of ground.
Mildly Offensive may have too much to do to be considered a real Oaks candidate, but the Ashland could offer a valuable measuring stick in seeing how she stacks up against others in her division. Numbers-wise, the unbeaten three-year-old miss compares very favorably to the likes of KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) and R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi), having earned BRIS Speed figures of 98 and 99, respectively, for her maiden and Santa Paula scores. Regardless of whether she starts in the Oaks or stays in California, Mildly Offensive is shaping up to be a tough rival in the division.
I debated whether or not to talk about ALEC'S MOON (Malibu Moon), but her connections and nomination to the Ashland eventually persuaded me to mention the bay lass.
After romping by 6 1/2 lengths in the January 29 Portland Meadows Oaks, the Jerry Hollendorfer runner returned Wednesday to take on the boys in the Portland Meadows Derby. While not the most talent-laden bunch, it was still an accomplishment for the miss to defeat her male counterparts by two lengths.
Alec's Moon hasn't exactly burned up the track in her eight lifetime starts, but neither have a lot of other Oaks hopefuls. Her one try against graded rivals in the Santa Ynez (G2) resulted in a less than inspiring performance, but she has shown progression since that January 15 race by taking the Oaks and Derby at Portland Meadows. It should also be noted that the filly is owned and trained by the same people who campaign last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision). Hollendorfer just might decide to ship his charge to Kentucky for the Ashland. It would be the best spot to test the mettle of Alec's Moon against others in her division.
QUANTUM MISS (Smoke Glacken) captured last Saturday's Cicada S. (G3) at Aqueduct, but the Tony Dutrow charge is not headed to the Oaks. At this time the gray miss is expected to stay in the sprinting ranks and eventually contest the Prioress S. (G1) at Belmont Park on July 4.
She dueled on the front end the entire way in the Cicada and began drawing off in the stretch. The only one who closed any ground on Quantum Miss was COAX LIBERTY (Successful Appeal), who missed the break and was forced to rally from well out of it. The runner-up, who was exiting a nice win in the Dearly Precious S. over the inner track, is also not likely to try the 1 1/8 miles of the Kentucky Oaks. Coax Liberty's one try at a distance resulted in a well-beaten sixth in the one-mile Frizette S. (G1) last year.
Finishing last in the Cicada was FULL MOON BLUES (Petionville), who has definitely lost a step since her Tempted S. (G3) win in November. Trainer Tim Tullock really needs to go back to the drawing board with the dark bay filly, who has been unable to factor in three starts since the Tempted.
Fair Grounds Oaks
Saturday's Fair Grounds Oaks is missing its expected main star. Kathmanblu was scheduled to go in the 1 1/16-mile event, but her connections opted to wait for the Ashland instead. That leaves INGLORIOUS (Hennessy) as the likely choice in the race following her second to Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra S. (G3). The bay miss has competed in nothing but stakes since beginning her career at Woodbine in October. She took a pair of Polytrack stakes at the Toronto track, then made her sophomore bow in the Rachel Alexandra, where she stayed close to Kathmanblu's heels in the lane. The Josie Carroll charge will probably rally late again in the Fair Grounds Oaks but shouldn't have a problem running down the leader this time.
GRANDACIOUS (Grand Slam) will need to do something in the Fair Grounds Oaks if she wants to stay on the Kentucky Oaks trail. The Bret Calhoun trainee did well at Delta Downs, finishing third in the Delta Downs Princess S. (G3) before making her seasonal bow a runner-up placing in the My Trusty Cat S. But when she shipped to Oaklawn Park for the Martha Washington, the bay lass faded badly over the good surface that day and ended up sixth, beaten a total of 35 3/4 lengths. Calhoun blames the whole experience on the drying-out track, saying Grandacious was "just horrified by the track" and "just didn't like the funky track." That race can easily be tossed out, though, if she can muster up her previous Delta form on Saturday.
Trainer Steve Margolis will saddle two in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and LITTLE MISS HOLLY (Maria's Mon) is looking to stamp her ticket to Churchill Downs for the first Friday in May. The chestnut broke her maiden by six lengths going a mile and 40 yards on December 9, then returned on January 22 last out to be third in the Silverbulletday S. She'll have to put together a good performance off the more than two-month break to factor into the Oaks equation. Margolis' other runner, SWITCHING GEARS (Tapit), still needs to prove she can handle stakes company. Her only try came as a well-beaten sixth in the Pocahontas S. (G2) at Churchill in late October.
Also entered in the Fair Grounds Oaks is NIJI'S GRAND GIRL (Candy Ride [Arg]), and the Kenny McPeek pupil could jump up in a big way while returning to the main track. Runner-up by only a half-length in the Delta Downs Princess, the chestnut scored an off-the-turf allowance victory to open the year, then was third when trying the grass in the Florida Oaks on February 12. A top-three finish here could see Niji's Grand Girl return to my Top 10 list.
SUMMER SOIREE (War Front) is the top draw in Saturday's Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park. Though she broke her maiden by 6 1/4 lengths at Delaware Park in August, the bay was unable to factor while finishing third in the Blue Hen S. and an optional claimer in her next two. The filly has improved by leaps and bounds, though, since that race and romped by 9 3/4 lengths when taking on allowance rivals January 30 at Oaklawn Park. The Larry Jones runner earned a nice 95 Speed rating for that effort and could be ready this time around for the stakes test.
LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley) and HARLAN'S RUBY (Harlan's Holiday) each have a shot at the win, but the latter filly doesn't really look a good Kentucky Oaks prospect. She seems more a synthetic or turf runner, and both were well beaten in their previous tries on conventional dirt tracks.
Lilacs and Lace actually had an opportunity to try the dirt again when trainer John Terranova shipped her to Fair Grounds for the Rachel Alexandra, but she tied up ahead of the race and they withdrew her. According to Terranova, she's been training great at Palm Meadows, so it looks like the Kentucky Oaks may still be in the cards for her.
Sunland Park Oaks
PLUM PRETTY (Medaglia d'Oro) and GOLDEN SPRINGS (Pomeroy) appear to have the best chance of exiting the Sunland Park Oaks and going to the Kentucky Oaks. The former hasn't run in 50 days and definitely needs the tightener off third-place runs in the Las Virgenes S. (G1) and Santa Ynez S. (G2). Golden Springs, on the other hand, enters the 8 1/2-furlong race a nose victress of the Island Fashion S. last out.
FORMAL PLAN (Formal Gold) was a nose back of Golden Springs in the Island Fashion while ICELAND DIVA (El Corredor) finished another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Neither appears a real Kentucky Oaks contender, but either one could turn the tables on Golden Springs.
Saturday's Prima Donna S. at Oaklawn Park is only run at six furlongs, but has some nice fillies running, including SCARLET MIST (Pure Prize) and ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway). Scarlet Mist competed over the good track at Oaklawn to be a length second in the Martha Washington S. on February 12, while Arienza captured her maiden debut at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, venue just 20 days ago.
The latter miss is a daughter of Horse of the Year Azeri (Jade Hunter) and has a bright future ahead. Her connections probably aren't considering the Kentucky Oaks at this time, but who knows? A big enough run on Saturday could have Robert and Lawana Low dreaming of the lilies.
GRAN LIONESS (Lion Heart) was third in the Rachel Alexandra in her last start, but the Prima Donna is the official start of trainer Calhoun's new sprinting campaign for the dark bay.
"We had a great trip with everything going our way," Calhoun spoke Thursday of the Rachel Alexandra. "We had a nice easy pace and we tried to slip away, but at the sixteenth-pole she was just empty.
"It looks like races at a mile or less are best for her and we've got a few races picked out. Sure, it was a dream that she was an Oaks-type filly, but it didn't work out, but she will have some great chances in (sprint) races like this later on."
Though she won't be in the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks, Gran Lioness still has a big chance in the Prima Donna and could lead all the way home.
1. R Heat Lightning
4. Joyful Victory
7. Pomeroys Pistol
9. Delightful Mary
10. It's Tricky