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Kentucky Oaks Report
Since 2000, only four runnings of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) have featured full 14-horse fields. In fact, Rachel Alexandra only faced six rivals in her record-setting Oaks victory in 2009. When the year opened, the 2011 edition of the "Run for the Lilies" appeared destined not to fill all the stalls on the first Friday in May.
That has changed dramatically within a short span of time. Two weeks ago three new fillies -- PLUM PRETTY (Medaglia d'Oro), SUMMER SOIREE (War Front) and DAISY DEVINE (Kafwain) -- popped up on the scene and are all scheduled to train up to the Kentucky Oaks off their stellar wins in the Sunland Park Oaks, Bourbonette Oaks (G3) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), respectively.
While the trio are late comers to the party, they may not be the last to show up. Saturday's Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland features mostly familiar names, but a big enough run from one of the less regarded runners could warrant a shot at the Oaks. Also, Oaklawn's Fantasy S. (G2) on Sunday will be undefeated ARIENZA's (Giant's Causeway) last chance to prove she belongs in the starting gate.
All in all, this year's Oaks has very quickly turned into a pretty contentious affair.
R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) solidified her status as the probable favorite for the Kentucky Oaks following another easy win, this time in last Saturday's Gulfstream Oaks (G2). Her main competition in the 1 1/8-mile test was It's Tricky (Mineshaft), but that filly could not catch up late and had to settle for fourth in her first career loss.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, R Heat Lightning settled about two wide while running in fourth to enter the backstretch. Jockey John Velazquez sat chilly in the saddle, letting her lope along under her own power, but even so she quickly ranged up to the outside of the pacesetting Triune (E Dubai), who was making her main-track debut in this spot. Salary Drive (Mizzen Mast) was making a move on the rail, and the two fillies sandwiched Triune leaving the backside.
For a moment it appeared that Salary Drive would offer up some sort of challenge, but Velazquez remained motionless in the saddle. R Heat Lightning straightened out for the drive home and easily put that rival away while never threatened by the late run of ISLAND SCHOOL (A.P. Indy), who finished 8 1/4 lengths behind on the wire. It was another four lengths back to Salary Drive and 10 lengths farther adrift to It's Tricky.
R Heat Lightning is the filly to beat in the Kentucky Oaks and will begin her final preparations with Pletcher's string in New York. It's not bad company to keep considering Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite and unbeaten champion Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) is also there. She'll eventually ship out to Louisville, Kentucky, and will attempt to start an Oaks/Derby double for Pletcher.
Since 1900, only two trainers have managed to accomplish that feat -- Ben Jones in 1949 and 1952 with Calumet Farms' Wistful/Ponder and Real Delight/Hill Gail, respectively, as well as Herbert J. Thompson in 1933 with Colonel E.R. Bradley's Barn Swallow/Brokers Tip. It should be noted that Ben Jones also trained 1948 Triple Crown hero Citation.
R Heat Lightning is likely to face some familiar rivals in the Oaks, and Island School could be one of them. Trainer Shug McGaughey said there's a distinct possibility that the Gulfstream Oaks runner-up will take another shot at her opponent under the Twin Spires.
"It's very hard to catch up over this track from the back, but we always want to let her run her race, and that's what we did today. I'm pleased," McGaughey said after the race. "We're eligible for an a-other-than (allowance) and we were just second in the Grade 2 stakes. We thought going two turns was what she'd like, and she'll keep improving. I'll have to think the Oaks is a possibility. I'll have to talk to Mr. (Will) Farish and see what he wants to do."
Yet another stall filled for Oaks 137.
KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) heads a nice field of nine in Saturday's Ashland going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Polytrack, and the Kenny McPeek charge will try to challenge R Heat Lightning for favorite status in the Oaks. Currently riding a three-race win streak, including an 8 1/2-length romp at Churchill in November's Golden Rod S. (G2), the bay filly will be trying an all-weather surface for the first time and will get a jockey switch to Alan Garcia.
I'm of two minds on the rider change. Julien Leparoux had been piloting Kathmanblu, but opted to stick with DANCINGINHERDREAMS (Tapit), for whom he was also the regular rider. While he's done an excellent job on Kathmanblu, Leparoux has managed to steer Dancinginherdreams into trouble in her last pair.
First, instead of waiting for a hole to open up in the Forward Gal S. (G2), her seasonal bow, the jockey swung his mount way wide around the turn and the gray lass just missed by three parts of a length on the wire. No one was going to catch R Heat Lightning last out in the Davona Dale S. (G2), but Dancinginherdreams was much closer to the pace than normal. She managed to gut out second-place by a head over Forward Gal winner Pomeroys Pistol (Pomeroy) on class alone.
Leparoux is a champion rider but he just seems to have had back luck with Dancinginherdreams this season. He did pilot her to easy scores last year, including the Pocahontas S. (G2) at Churchill, and needs to find that same mojo if she's to defeat Kathmanblu. Regardless, his loss is Garcia's gain.
While Kathmanblu and Dancinginherdreams are the top draws, there's another, smaller rivalry brewing between WYOMIA (Vindication) and DELIGHTFUL MARY (Limehouse). Wyomia opened her career in Canada, breaking her maiden in her second try by 5 1/4 lengths on Woodbine's Polytrack before taking the Mazarine S. (Can-G3) by 2 3/4 lengths over Delightful Mary. The dark bay miss made her first start on turf, finishing fifth, and proved her dislike for the sod once again when sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) to close her two-year-old campaign. She didn't return until March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs, when she posted a head victory in the Suncoast S.
Delightful Mary returned just two days later at Ocala to take the O.B.S. Championship S. (fillies division) by three parts of a length. That chestnut lass bypassed the Juvenile Fillies Turf in her two-year-old finale and instead opted for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), where she ran a very nice third in her dirt debut. While these two aren't quite on par with Kathmanblu, their synthetic acumen could make a difference on Saturday.
Also entered in the Ashland are BOUQUET BOOTH (Flower Alley), queen of the Delta Downs Princess S. (G3) and Silverbulletday prior to a fourth behind Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) last out; California Oaks heroine LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley), who ran fourth in the Bourbonette Oaks most recently; Woodbine stakes winner GRAND STYLE (Giant's Causeway), who will make her seasonal bow in this spot; Grade 3-placed turf runner EXCITED (Giant's Causeway); and last-out maiden scorer DRAW IT (Tapit).
Only five will line up in the Fantasy on Sunday, and Arienza will try to use the 8 1/2-furlong affair as a springboard to the Kentucky Oaks. I didn't think the daughter of Horse of the Year Azeri (Jade Hunter) could make up enough ground considering she just broke her maiden on March 6, but trainer Dan Peitz scratched her out of the March 26 Prima Donna S. going six furlongs and re-entered her the next day in a two-turn, one-mile allowance event back at Oaklawn Park. Arienza propelled herself into Fantasy contention with a 2 1/2-length victory in that race and the class test here should be a good measuring stick on whether she's truly ready to tackle the Oaks on May 6.
Of course, the two draws in the Fantasy are JOYFUL VICTORY (Tapit) and HOLY HEAVENS (Holy Bull). The former filly broke her maiden last year under the tutelage of Tony Dutrow before placing third and fifth, respectively, in the Frizette S. (G1) and Juvenile Fillies. She was transferred to trainer Larry Jones and made her three-year-old bow for him a dominant 8 3/4-length victory in the Honeybee S. (G3) on March 12 at Oaklawn. Holy Heavens, winner of the Martha Washington S. at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, venue, finished second that day and will be looking to turn the tables in this spot.
JELLY CABLE (Sky Mesa), third in Turfway Park's Valdale S. last out, and EXPLOSIVE DISCO (Explosive Truth), second against state-breds in the Rainbow Miss S., complete the Fantasy field.
The $150,000 Comely S. (G3) is scheduled for a mile on the main track at Aqueduct, and might produce an Oaks hopeful on Saturday. At first glance the race appears to be a sprinter's affair, but closer investigation reveals some potential in its seven-filly field.
First up is the undefeated AVA K. (Dixie Union), who will be trying open company for the first time following a three-length wire job in the Proud Puppy S. last out. HOT SUMMER (Malibu Moon) ran a well-beaten fifth while making her sophomore bow in the Davona Dale last out and probably needed the race. She could rebound here under Luis Saez. R HOLIDAY MOOD (Trippi) broke her maiden going a mile on the inner track before taking the Out Ruled S. on March 13, and comes from the same owner/trainer connections as R Heat Lighting. A Pletcher exacta in the Oaks? Could be possible.
HER SMILE (Include) ran third to Wyomia in the Suncoast last out and was a decent fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Florida Oaks on the turf. She, like most others in here, will need the graded earnings to make the Oaks field. VIXEN'S ROAR (Pulpit) broke her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths over ROYAL SIGHTING (Rahy) going a mile and 70 yards two back, but was a well-beaten fifth in the Busher S. last out. The class hike may prove to tough to handle. Royal Sighting has already finished behind others in this field, but did just romp by 12 3/4 lengths to take her initial win going a mile and 70 yards once again. She did so while leading throughout, and the new running style could prove lethal to her rivals in the chestnut's stakes bow.
MYSTERIOUS CHIMES (Aldebaran) will be stretching out here past six furlongs for the first time, but probably wants no part of a mile based on her past races.
1. R Heat Lightning
4. Joyful Victory
5. Plum Pretty
6. Summer Soiree
7. Daisy Devine
8. Niji's Grand Girl