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Kentucky Oaks Report
Some new shooters joined the Kentucky Oaks (G1) picture following last weekend's preps, and they did so in dazzling fashion. PLUM PRETTY (Medaglia d'Oro) and SUMMER SOIREE (War Front) never encountered a single threat in their picture perfect wins, while DAISY DEVINE (Kafwain) offered a slight upset in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).
The main event on Saturday is the Gulfstream Oaks (G2), and R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) is the filly to beat in the seven-strong field. While she looks unbeatable, so did INGLORIOUS (Hennessy) in the Fair Grounds Oaks. That's why they don't give out the trophies until after the race has been run.
Plum Pretty put on an impressive show when dominating the Sunland Park Oaks by 25 lengths last Sunday. The Bob Baffert charge quickly moved to the front from her 5 post after the gates opened, but found company in the form of Icelain Diva (El Corredor). That one kept pace on the inside for the first quarter, but dropped out of contention following the half.
Plum Pretty took command and began drawing off on the backside, extended her margin rounding the turn, and was given a couple taps with the whip in the stretch to keep her mind on the business at hand. The official margin was 25 lengths, but jockey Martin Garcia had already wrapped up on her before the wire, allowing her to lope home under her own power.
The bay filly had never shown anything like that in her prior three runs, finishing third in the Las Virgenes S. (G1) and Santa Ynez S. (G2) earlier in the season. She earned a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating for her sensational score and put herself squarely in the running to be one of the favorites come May 6.
My only concern is that Plum Pretty may have peaked at the wrong time. While the lass appears to have turned a corner, she'll have to retain that form with the Kentucky Oaks still a month off.
Though the Prima Donna S. was run at Oaklawn Park on March 26, the real story came the next day when ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway) moved her record to a perfect two-for-two against allowance/optional claiming rivals.
Originally scheduled to make her second career start in the six-furlong Prima Donna, the Daniel Peitz pupil was instead withdrawn and entered in the 10TH race going a mile the next day. It was probably a much better spot for the filly, distance-wise at least, and gave her experience running over a less-than-fast surface.
Arienza shot to the front over the wet-fast ground and proceeded to set the pace on the backstretch while running two wide. Jockey Gabriel Saez had a firm hold on the sophomore, and she rated kindly while maintaining a comfortable lead. The rest of the field abruptly caught up on the turn, and for a moment it appeared Arienza would be left behind. That wasn't the case, though, as Saez shook the reins at his mount. Hitting another gear, she opened back up and was 2 1/2 lengths clear on the wire while never even shown the whip. Arienza continued galloping out past the wire and will probably relish more ground next out.
While I'm still not sure she'll be ready for the Oaks, Arienza is still an exciting runner in the division and is likely to face her first major test in the Fantasy S. (G2) on April 10. A good enough run there could propel this daughter of Horse of the Year Azeri (Jade Hunter) straight into the Oaks.
As for the Prima Donna, GRAN LIONESS (Lion Heart) returned to the winner's circle following a 1 1/4-length victory. The Bret Calhoun runner was exiting a nice third in the 8 1/2-furlong Rachel Alexandra S. (G3), but shortened up for this one. As it turns out, the dark bay lass is bypassing the Oaks and will stay at sprint distances in the future. Calhoun indicated even before the race that shorter events at Keeneland and Churchill are in Gran Lioness' immediate future. The April 17 Beaumont S. (G2) going about seven furlongs should be right up her alley.
Daisy Devine ended up spoiling Inglorious' supposed easy win in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Trainer Andrew McKeever entered his charge in the 8 1/2-furlong test off a two-month break, and the rest seems to have done the trick.
Daisy Devine settled into a stalking position just off the leader's flank on the backstretch while jockey Chantal Sutherland was having a time with Inglorious in the back. That filly suffered a slight bump right out of the gate and was headstrong entering the first turn. As Daisy Devine continued coasting along in second, Inglorious tugged her way in between horses and closer to the front while still seeking more rein.
Daisy Devine ranged up to run in tandem with pacesetter Grandacious (Grand Slam) rounding the turn and grabbed the advantage entering the lane. Inglorious came up empty in the stretch, but Daisy Devine had enough left in reserve to hold the late run of stakes-debuter St. John's River (Include). Inglorious appeared capable of taking third at least, but NIJI'S GRAND GIRL (Candy Ride [Arg]) rallied to pass her favored rival right before the line.
The final numbers for the Fair Grounds Oaks weren't all that impressive, but are on par with many of the other preps this year. Daisy Devine earned a 95 BRIS Speed figure for her first stakes win. The bay miss made her stakes bow in the January 22 Silverbulletday S. and just missed by a neck in that contest. The layoff appears to be key with her, and McKeever will now train his runner up to the Kentucky Oaks off this one.
Inglorious was expected to win easily following her second to Kathmanblu (Bluegrass Cat) in the Rachel Alexandra, but took herself out of contention early. She's still a top-class runner, but might be mentally unprepared for Oaks Day. I've always like Niji's Grand Girl and thought her late rally in her return to a dirt track was more than enough to warrant a spot on my Top 10. Thus, until Inglorious proves me wrong, Niji's Grand Girl will take her position. While I don't believe she'll win the big prize, I think the chestnut lass has a good chance in the top three.
Later on Fair Grounds' Saturday program, a full sister to Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) hero Blame made her second career start in the 12TH race. Stretching out to a mile and 70 yards following a head second going six furlongs in February, MIGHT (Arch) appeared as rank as Inglorious while running in second early on. Meet-leading rider Rosie Napravnik kept her on the outside, and the pair moved up to challenge on the turn. Put to a drive in the stretch, Might pulled away to win by 1 1/2 lengths on the line.
The bay filly will be one to watch in the future, but the Kentucky Oaks is out of her reach at this point.
Like Plum Pretty, Summer Soiree dominated her rivals in last Saturday's Bourbonette Oaks (G3) at Turfway Park. While normally I'd be inclined to dismiss a Polytrack race, she did it much too easy to be discounted out of hand.
Summer Soiree broke on top under Saez and scooted to the front while angling over a bit. She was under restraint while entering the backstretch, but had settled by the time she hit the stretch. The bay miss went wide around the turn and drew off to be 10 3/4 lengths clear on the line.
The Larry Jones trainee was awarded a 94 BRIS Speed rating for her first stakes victory and is now headed to the Oaks, possibly straight from this race. Summer Soiree entered the Bourbonette Oaks off a 55-day break, so the 41-day lead up to the Kentucky Oaks should offer no problems for the filly.
Unfortunately for Jones, a lot of people saw Summer Soiree's tour de force at Turfway Park, including Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin. The organization made an offer to the filly's owners that they couldn't refuse, and she's now scheduled to join trainer Graham Motion in Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday.
Jones may have lost a good one, but he still has Honeybee S. (G3) queen Joyful Victory (Tapit), who is nominated to the Fantasy at Oaklawn in advance of the Kentucky Oaks.
Saturday's Gulfstream Oaks is looking a lot like the Fair Grounds Oaks. There is one major contender in the seven-filly field, with a couple of up-and-comers looking to make the jump forward.
R Heat Lightning romped by 7 1/4 lengths in the one-mile Davona Dale S. (G2) last out and will need to carry that an extra eighth-of-a-mile on Saturday. The Todd Pletcher runner obviously needed her first race back when finishing fourth in the Forward Gal S. (G2) on January 30, and appears ready to leap into the favorite spot with a win here. Triumphant in the Spinaway S. (G1) and second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last season, R Heat Lightning has already proven her class and should be able to silence any remaining naysayers with a win in this spot.
One of those looking to derail R Heat Lightning's chances is IT'S TRICKY (Mineshaft). The bay miss has answered every question thus far, most recently taking the Busher S. by eight lengths at Aqueduct. This will be the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee's first start outside of New York, and the travel will be a good experience for the lightly raced miss. Her numbers are on par with R Heat Lightning, and jockey Alan Garcia, aboard for her maiden victory, takes back the mount.
The rest of the field owns a slight advantage in that they are all based in Florida. SALARY DRIVE (Mizzen Mast) is exiting a victory in an off-the-turf optional claiming test, while KINDERSLEY (Bernardini) just broke her maiden going a mile by 4 1/4 lengths. BESO GRANDE (Mass Media) also posted a win while going a mile, but against allowance rivals with ISLAND SCHOOL (A.P. Indy) finishing two lengths back in third in the same race.
Fellow local TRIUNE (E Dubai) is an interesting prospect in that the James Jerkens charge has spent her career so far competing on turf. She has been working on the dirt at Palm Meadows Training Center, recently recording a nice half-mile move in :48 2/5, and will be tough if she takes to the dirt at Gulfstream. The bay lass already has winning experience over the distance, and was last seen running fourth in the Herecomesthebride S. (G3) three weeks ago.
There is a question whether Triune is actually going in the Gulfstream Oaks, though. She's currently under consideration for the Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland on April 9, where she could join Kathmanblu, Bouquet Booth (Flower Alley), Delightful Mary (Limehouse) and Wyomia (Vindication) in the starting gate. If her connections opt for the Lexington, Kentucky, venue instead, Triune may also wind up facing Excited (Giant's Causeway), who finished a half-length in front of her when third in the Herecomesthebride.
1. R Heat Lightning
4. Joyful Victory
5. Plum Pretty
6. Summer Soiree
7. Daisy Devine
8. Niji's Grand Girl
10. It's Tricky