Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches successfully passed the stakes test on Saturday when holding off Princess of Sylmar to take the Grade 2, $250,000 Gazelle by 3 1/4 lengths. The 1 1/8-mile Aqueduct affair carried 100 points for the Kentucky Oaks, guaranteeing Close Hatches a spot in the starting gate of that May 3 contest if trainer Bill Mott decides to send her on to Churchill Downs.
Though his filly Rose to Gold remains at Oaklawn Park in advance of Wednesday's Grade 3 Fantasy, co-owner Alex Centofanti was at Calder Saturday morning to discuss his Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks hopeful, winner of last year's Brave Raj and Lindsay Frolic Stakes at Calder and most recently the heroine of the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn.
Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”), working with the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) and other law enforcement and public safety partners, has developed a new plan for taxi cab and bus drop-off and pick-up of Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Day patrons designed to create a more convenient and efficient environment for fans traveling to-and-from the track via those means of transportation on its biggest days.
The stakes action on Santa Anita's Saturday card will kick off in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, which will feature a rematch between champion juvenile filly Beholder and Fiftyshadesofhay.
Winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades last October, Spring in the Air will return to Keeneland's Polytrack for Saturday's Grade 1 Ashland. The Mark Casse-trained filly is scheduled to face 13 rivals in the 76th running of the $500,000 event, which also drew two also-eligibles, and the 1 1/16-mile race will award points on a 100-40-20-10 scale toward qualification for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on May 3.
Reconstituted as a Kentucky Oaks prep this season following its demotion from Grade 1 to Grade 2 status, Saturday's $250,000 Gazelle at Aqueduct attracted a field of six to go 1 1/8 miles.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will have the favorite in this one as Princess of Sylmar seeks to build on a resume that includes blowout wins in the Busanda and Busher in her last two starts over the inner dirt at the Big A.
Repole Stable's Unlimited Budget was bet down to 4-5 favoritism over Flashy Gray and lived up to that status to hand trainer Todd Pletcher a second Oaks win Saturday when taking the Grade 2, $490,000 Fair Grounds Oaks by 1 3/4 lengths.
Earlier on the day, Pletcher saddled Dreaming of Julia to victory in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks for owner/breeder Stonestreet Stables.
Stonestreet Stables' homebred Dreaming of Julia vied with Live Lively for favoritism in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, but on track there was no challenge as the bay filly drew off to a devastating 21 3/4-length score over that rival to give John Velazquez his third win on the day.
Flashy Gray gets a chance to make amends for her runner-up effort as the 2-5 favorite in Oaklawn's Grade 3 Honeybee on March 9 when she is pegged as the solid 6-5 morning-line choice in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on Saturday on the Louisiana Derby Day undercard.
Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, at 1 1/8 miles, features a rematch of Live Lively and Dreaming of Julia, the top two finishers in the Grade 2 Davona Dale on February 23.
Midnight Lucky didn't need any luck, or much encouragement from jockey Rafael Bejarano either, as she romped by eight lengths in Sunday's $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks.
Trained by Bob Baffert, the gray miss was making her stakes and two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile contest and easily proved capable of handling such a task when setting a new Sunland Park track record of 1:41.06 over the fast going.
Four of the last eight Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks winners have gone on to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Saturday's 45th renewal of the feminine equivalent of the Louisiana Derby once again promises that kind of quality.
A star-studded cast is waiting in the wings of the 1 1/16-mile contest, headed by unbeaten Unlimited Budget, who closed out her juvenile campaign with a 1 1/4-length win in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Demoiselle.
Silsita was making her stakes bow in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks, but that didn't stop the Todd Pletcher trainee from dueling to a nose win over fellow stakes debuter and longshot Marathon Lady on the wire of the one-mile contest. Sent off the 9-1 third choice in the 12-filly field, Silsita paid $20.40, $9.20 and $4.20 to her faithful backers.
While the Grade 3 Spiral is the featured event at Turfway Park on Saturday, sophomores fillies will get their turn in the spotlight as a field of 12 line up in the Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks. Like its companion one race later, the one-mile event is worth 50 points to the winner for a spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks starting gate.
Midnight Lucky, a daughter of Midnight Lute co-owned by Mike Pegram, will be an overwhelming favorite to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a third consecutive win in Sunday's 200,000 Sunland Park Oaks at 1 1/16 miles.
A 7 1/4-length debut winner at Santa Anita on February 16 going 6 1/2 furlongs, Midnight Lucky seeks to follow in the hoofsteps of 2011 winner Plum Pretty, who went on to capture the Kentucky Oaks, and 2012 vixen Princess Arabella.
Elghayoor ran down 1-2 favorite Highestmaintenance and I'm Mom's Favorite to take Saturday's $100,000 Cicada at Aqueduct by a half-length. In the process, the dark bay daughter of Ghostzapper earned 50 points toward a starting berth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 3 via the new Oaks point system.
Stablemates Elghayoor and Railtown Girl, the 1-2 finishers in last month's Dearly Precious at Aqueduct, return Saturday to the New York track to take on five other three-year-old fillies in Saturday's 21st running of the $100,000 Cicada.
A total of 134 fillies, led by champion Beholder, have been nominated to Keeneland's Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes, scheduled for April 6. The nominees are available at this link.
The total number of fillies nominated during the early closing period represents a 67 percent increase over 2012. As with the Blue Grass, a late nomination period closes March 27.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott's arsenal of three-year-old filly talent continued to get deeper Sunday at Gulfstream Park as Juddmonte Farm's Close Hatches passed her first distance test with flying colors drawing off to 1 1/4 length victory over Catalyst Stable and partners' Kimberly Jean in the 3RD race, 'a other than' allowance test going 1 1/16 miles under jockey Joel Rosario.
Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti's Rose to Gold took command of the Grade 3, $150,000 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park on Saturday and turned back the pressing 2-5 favorite Flashy Gray to post a 2 3/4-length victory under jockey Calvin Borel. The Sal Santoro-trained daughter of Friends Lake set all the pace in the 1 1/16-mile contest before stopping the clock in 1:45 on the fast Oaklawn dirt.