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On Fire Baby battles to Honeybee victory
Anita Cauley's homebred On Fire Baby was sent off the 2-5 favorite in Saturday's Grade 3, $125,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but the gray miss had to work for the win as 3-1 second choice Amie's Dini refused to yield in the lane. It was only nearing the wire that On Fire Baby managed to pull away, posting a two-length victory under jockey Joe Johnson to return $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10 to her backers.
Amie's Dini captured the Martha Washington Stakes on February 11, while On Fire Baby skipped that event following a third-place run against the boys in the Smarty Jones Stakes in January. Meeting here for the first time, the pair separated themselves from the rest of the field by the time they reached the three-quarters mark.
Amie's Dini bolted from the gate and immediately took command through splits of :23 3/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 3/5. On Fire Baby steadily made her way forward after being forced to run four wide around the first turn, and was just a head back by the time they reached six furlongs. The pair continued battling into the stretch while distancing themselves from their rivals, but On Fire Baby would not be denied when digging in to complete the 1 1/16-mile contest in 1:43 3/5 on the fast dirt.
"I was watching the race and (trainer) Ron's (Moquett) filly (Amie's Dini) was having a real good time out there," trainer Gary Hartlage said. "She was nice and relaxed. I said to (owner) Anita (Cauley) that Joe's going to have to work a little harder than we thought. Just as soon as I said that, Joe went and tackled her and she really hung in there tough with our horse. Our horse ran a super race. I don't think I gave Ron's filly not enough credit going in and that's going to help us in the next race."
"She hit the side of the gate leaving there, but recovered nicely," Johnson said. "She wanted to run and I could have slowed her, but I let her run one. She got to gawking in the stretch, but as soon as I asked her, she responded. She has a great future and I'm just glad to be a part of it. I'm very thankful to this guy (Gary Hartlage) for sticking with me for 27 years. You don't get to ride this kind very often."
Amie's Dini was easily best of the rest, 9 1/2 lengths in front of third-placer Colonial Empress. It was another 3 1/2 lengths back to Silver Hustler, who in turn had 6 3/4 lengths to spare on Our Domain and Inca Miss, who were separated by just a neck on the wire. Forgotten People and Rocket Twentyone completed the order of finish.
"Congratulations to "Red Dogg" Hartlage and Ms. Cauley. They have really nice filly," said Ron Moquett, trainer of Amie's Dini. "Hopefully, everyone comes back again because this was a great race for the fans. They had to enjoy it. The better horse won today, but maybe we can continue to improve and get ourselves a turn."
On Fire Baby has now accumulated $312,329 in lifetime earnings to go along with her 6-4-0-1 career mark. The three-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken began her career with a four-length score at Ellis Park last August, but didn't seem to like the Polytrack at Keeneland when fading to fifth after leading early in the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes on October 7.
The filly returned 23 days later at Churchill Downs and got up for a three-quarter length victory in the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes. Hartlage next saddled On Fire Baby in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes, and the gray lass gave notice of her true talent when wiring the 1 1/16-mile contest by 6 1/4 lengths.
"We'll see how she comes out of this race before we decide on her next race, but it will be here (at Oaklawn)," Hartlage said. "We have options now. We have enough earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby at this point and she's undefeated at Churchill.
"I've been training horses around here for 25 years and the last horses I've seen that trained like her were Curlin and Rachel (Alexandra) and I know that's saying something, but she's just so flashy. So professional. I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be training one like her. If I had lost today, I would have had to go crawl in a gutter. It's Anita's birthday. She called it the best birthday she's ever had."
On Fire Baby is out of the stakes-winning Gilded Time mare Ornate, and has already gone one step farther than half-sister High Heels. That E Dubai filly ran third in the Golden Rod and second in the Honeybee before earning her only stakes score in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes. High Heels would go on to be third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in 2007, a race On Fire Baby may bypass in favor of the Kentucky Derby one day later.
On Fire Baby and High Heels also count Grade 3-placed stakes winner French Kiss as a half-sister. This female line has been very productive, boasting the likes of Grade 1-winning sires Olympio, Pyro, Paddy O'Prado and Cuvee as well as recent Grade 2 scorer Tapizar, who finished second in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap just two races later on the Oaklawn card.