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Kentucky Oaks Report
Three new shooters have added their names to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) after the late nomination period closed on Wednesday. ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway), ST. JOHN'S RIVER (Include) and STREET STORM (Stormy Atlantic) were all made eligible to run on the first Friday in May after their connections paid the $1,500 fee.
With just three weeks left, the likely Oaks field is beginning to take shape. R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) is still leading the division, but JOYFUL VICTORY (Tapit) made serious inroads into her advantage following another devastating victory, this time in the Fantasy S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park last Sunday. KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) was not so lucky, falling to California Oaks queen LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley) in the Ashland S. (G1), but could easily rebound off that Polytrack experience.
Joyful Victory turned the Fantasy into a rout, running away in the stretch to be seven lengths clear of Arienza on the wire.
Arienza darted to the front to contest the early pace with Explosive Disco (Explosive Truth), but was eventually settled into a good stalking position by jockey Ramon Dominguez just in behind that one. Joyful Victory stayed in contact with Arienza while running off the rail, and the field was completed by Holy Heavens (Holy Bull) bringing up the rear.
Joyful Victory began drawing closer to Arienza nearing the turn, prompting Dominguez to let out a notch. Arienza easily overtook Explosive Disco but couldn't shake Joyful Victory. The pair drew away from their other two rivals and appeared for a moment ready to offer up an exciting stretch duel. Joyful Victory would have none of that, though.
The gray dynamo had drawn even with Arienza by the time the two entered the stretch with jockey Mike Smith still sitting chilly. A couple shakes on the reins was all it took for Joyful Victory to go on, and she bounded home a much-the-best winner. In fact, her winning margin matched the record set in 1996 by Escena. That one would go on to just miss by a neck in the Kentucky Oaks, but would eventually in her career be named champion older mare following four Grade 1 victories that included the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).
This was the third Fantasy win for trainer Larry Jones, whose last winner was Eight Belles in 2008. That gray star would follow up with a second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but tragically broke down after the wire of the race.
"It is uncanny how much (Joyful Victory is) like Eight Belles, and it's more than just because they are both grays," Jones mused. "I was looking at her the other day and I said I know she was born the year (Eight Belles) died, but it's almost like she consumed (Eight Belles). It's like she's come back."
Whether or not Joyful Victory is the reincarnation of Eight Belles I'll gladly leave to the philosophers. One thing is almost certain, though. Jones and owner Fox Hill Farm are unlikely to go through the same debacle that followed Eight Belles' heartbreaking death and will enter Joyful Victory in the Oaks instead of the Derby.
Jones and Fox Hill Farm owner Rick Porter were practically eviscerated by both the media and public for running a filly against the boys in the Derby. The fact that Eight Belles beat everyone but the winner that day, and this type of move is done overseas with quite a lot of success (think Goldikova [Ire] and Black Caviar just to name two current runners) obviously didn't matter, not with the story just waiting to be sensationalized.
The whole Eight Belles episode was a tragedy, for sure, but not because she ran against the boys. The same thing could have happened in the Oaks just as it did in the Derby. Unfortunately, it has probably deprived us from seeing a deserving filly like Joyful Victory take her shot in the big dance.
Arienza is an up-and-comer who earned a shot at the Oaks, but I'm still hesitant on endorsing the talented miss. With just three starts under her girth, she'll probably be the most inexperienced runner in the field, if she even makes the field. The chestnut only received $60,000 for her second in the Fantasy, which is the sum and total of her graded earnings. The Oaks seems to be drawing quite a few runners, and the starting gate will fill up pretty quickly with only 14 allowed to start.
Lilacs and Lace was something of a surprise in the Ashland, though I did have her on my Top 10 list initially. I decided to give DANCINGINHERDREAMS (Tapit) another shot, but that filly took herself completely out of the picture following her last-place finish in the Ashland. And this time I can't blame jockey Julien Leparoux.
Lilacs and Lace moved up to take control of the race soon after the gates opened and never relinquished her advantage. Kathmanblu was settled in midpack in a good spot four wide while under a snug hold, but couldn't seem to close in the lane. The bay did have to swing five wide around the turn, but was in perfect position to run down Lilacs and Lace in the lane. She just didn't seem to have the same kick that characterized her earlier wins.
WYOMIA (Vindication) actually finished in front of Kathmanblu by 2 1/4 lengths on the wire with BOUQUET BOOTH (Flower Alley) another length back in fourth. Neither of those two have been confirmed for the Oaks yet, with Bouquet Booth's trainer, Steve Margolis, saying on Thursday that she's also nominated to the Eight Belles S. (G3) and Edgewood S. on the Oaks undercard. Wyomia could actually be headed to the Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) at Pimlico on May 20.
Getting back to Kathmanblu, the Kenny McPeek runner entered the Ashland off three straight victories, but the most recent of those came in the February 19 Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) at Fair Grounds. The 49-day break may have factored, but I believe the Polytrack was the biggest obstacle. Kathmanblu just didn't seem to stride out the same on the synthetic as she has been on dirt tracks. Her motion was short and choppy, and she didn't extend like normal. A return to a conventional dirt track at Churchill could be just what she needs.
Dancinginherdreams never showed anything in the Ashland, which was her two-turn debut. The gray filly settled in the rear and never picked it up in her third start of the year. The three-year-old showed plenty of promise last season, especially when taking the Pocahontas S. (G2) at Churchill in late October, but has yet to live up to her juvenile potential. I don't think she'll be able to turn it around before the Oaks.
Aqueduct's Comely S. (G3) was run last Saturday, but I can't see anyone exiting that one-turn mile and heading to the Oaks. Winner HOT SUMMER (Malibu Moon) saved ground down on the rail with eventual runner-up HER SMILE (Include) racing to her outside and just behind. While Hot Summer skimmed through along the rail, Her Smile was forced to go four wide around the turn. The David Fawkes trainee took advantage of her inland route to be 2 1/4 lengths clear on the line.
Fawkes has already said he hasn't picked Hot Summer's next race, but with 30 of his pupils shipping up from Florida to New York I'd say the June 11 Acorn S. (G1) going a mile at Belmont Park could eventually be on her radar.
Just like the Comely, I doubt anyone will exit Sunday's Beaumont S. (G2) at Keeneland with an eye on the Kentucky Oaks. Nonetheless, I'll still give a brief breakdown of the about seven-furlong contest.
TURBULENT DESCENT (Congrats) shares top weight duties of 123 pounds with TELL A KELLY (Tapit), who hasn't been seen since running third to her rival in the December 11 Hollywood Starlet (G1). Turbulent Descent would go on to suffer her first career loss in the Las Virgenes S. (G1) before taking the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) last out. The bay miss opened her racing campaign on the synthetic Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, so Keeneland's Polytrack may prove to be no obstacle for the consistent filly.
Trainer Mike Puype has already said that Turbulent Descent is not headed to the Oaks, and I'd have to say that conditioner Chad Brown wouldn't expect Tell a Kelly to make the race either off just one start this year. Tell a Kelly was transferred from John Sadler's barn to Brown following a juvenile campaign that saw her win the Darley Debutante (G1) and place in the Oak Leaf S. (G1) and Hollywood Starlet. Her only off-the-board finish to date came when she tried the dirt at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
Tell a Kelly's owners seem to want an East Coast campaign this year so she'll have to get used to conventional dirt tracks, but the Beaumont is the perfect spot for her comeback. I don't think she'll be ready to win off the break, but it should get her ready for the rest of the season and she could easily break into the top three on talent alone.
Like Turbulent Descent, GRAN LIONESS (Lion Heart) has already been declared from the Oaks, but trainer Brett Calhoun is hoping his filly morphs into a stellar sprinter. The start of her new sprinting campaign came when the dark bay wired the six-furlong Prima Donna S. at Oaklawn Park on March 26, but she'll be trying Polytrack for the first time here. She's never even recorded a work on the synthetic before, so that could come into play on Saturday.
COAX LIBERTY (Successful Appeal), second in the Cicada S. (G3) last out, will also be making her synthetic debut in the Beaumont, but the dark bay does own training experience over Fair Hill's Tapeta training track at least. AIDE (Arch) and HONEY CHILE (Invisible Ink) have even more of an advantage considering that both broke their maidens on Polytracks. Aide did so at Turfway Park last year and is exiting a neck second in the off-the-turf Mardi Gras S. at Fair Grounds. Honey Chile scored a maiden debut victory at Arlington Park by 3 1/2 lengths before going on to Keeneland last fall to dominate an allowance field by 6 1/2 lengths.
1. R Heat Lightning
2. Joyful Victory
4. Plum Pretty
5. Summer Soiree
7. Daisy Devine
8. Lilacs and Lace
10. Niji's Grand Girl