The Road to the Kentucky Oaks series of points races came to a close on Friday, April 14, at Oaklawn Park when Ever So Clever prevailed in the Fantasy Stakes (G3).
Before that, however, there were a couple of upset wins and a new exciting prospect for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Ashland Stakes (G1) – Keeneland – April 8, 2017
The gray filly settled just off the flank of pacesetter Someday Soon about three wide down the backstretch. She inched closer nearing the turn and ranged up to challenge around the bend, bumping with Someday Soon as the duo hit upper stretch. Sailor’s Valentine grabbed command in midstretch and just held the rallying Daddys Lil Darling to second by a half-length.
The Eddie Kenneally-trained daughter of Mizzen Mast made her debut on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard, thanks to the 100 points she earned in the Ashland. Her only other stakes tries resulted in a fourth in last year’s Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs and a well-beaten fifth in the Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Sailor’s Valentine may be a horse for the course, as her only other win also came at Keeneland when she took her maiden debut by 3 1/4 lengths last October 8. Prior to the Ashland, the filly’s best finish, other than her maiden win, came when a neck second in a turf allowance/optional claimer on March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Regardless, Sailor’s Valentine is in the Kentucky Oaks field and currently sits in fourth on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard. She earned an 87 BRIS Speed rating for her first stakes triumph.
Santa Anita Oaks (G1) – Santa Anita Park – April 8, 2017
With Unique Bella sidelined, the way appeared clear for Abel Tasman to take control of the West Coast three-year-old filly division in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). Unfortunately for the bay miss, trainer Richard Mandella decided to unveil PARADISE WOODS in the 1 1/16-mile affair.
Paradise Woods, making just her third career start and her stakes debut, gunned straight for the lead and settled into a comfortable pace with Princess Karen tracking behind her. Flavien Prat sat chilly on the Union Rags filly all the way down the backside and only niggled at her upon hitting the stretch. She began drawing off under her own power and romped home an 11 3/4-length winner.
Paradise Woods earned a whopping 110 BRIS Speed rating for her Santa Anita Oaks victory, which was her first try past six furlongs. The bay filly stamped herself as a major contender for the Kentucky Oaks and resides in the fifth spot on the Leaderboard.
Gazelle Stakes (G2) – Aqueduct – April 8, 2017
The first nine-furlong contest, the Demoiselle Stakes (G2), saw the Kelly Breen pupil wire the field by a half-length last November 26. She led every step of the way again in the Gazelle, but this time around drew off under a hand ride from jockey Paco Lopez to a 13-length victory.
Miss Sky Warrior now brings a five-race win streak into the Kentucky Oaks. She faded to fourth in her debut last September 11 at Belmont Park, then broke her maiden by seven lengths at Parx Racing. Breen sent the First Samurai filly against stakes foes for the first time in the Tempted Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, and Miss Sky Warrior pulled off a three-quarter length score that day.
Next up was the Demoiselle, which concluded her juvenile season, and the Gazelle came after the dark bay filly opened 2017 with a half-length victory at Gulfstream Park in the March 4 Davona Dale Stakes (G2). Miss Sky Warrior earned a career-best 98 BRIS Speed figure in the Gazelle and is second only to Farrell on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard.
Beaumont Stakes (G3) – Keeneland – April 9, 2017
The Beaumont Stakes (G3) at Keeneland is considered a wild card race in the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series. It only offers 10-40-2-1 points, a way for someone on the verge of making the field to get over the hump if they ran, and won, in this about seven-furlong affair.
SWEET LORETTA was the recipient of those 10 points after taking the Beaumont by three lengths as the 6-5 favorite. The Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of Tapit was making her seasonal bow in this spot and earned an 83 BRIS Speed rating for the win.
The likelihood of Sweet Loretta showing up for the Kentucky Oaks is slim. Her only loss to date came when trying to stretch out past seven furlongs, and she’s not even close to the cutoff for the field. The rest of the Beaumont top four aren’t even nominated to the race, so this contest doesn’t look to have any impact on the Run for the Lilies.
Fantasy Stakes (G3) – Oaklawn Park – April 14, 2017
Settled outside of Drinks on Broadway down the backstretch, Ever So Clever bided her time as Chanel’s Legacy set the pace up front. She split rivals on the turn, was six wide entering the lane and ended up bouncing off Benner Island in upper stretch.
Ever So Clever never broke stride, continuing to motor as she ran down Chaenl’s Legacy for the 1 3/4-length win. It was the Steve Asmussen trainee’s first stakes victory, though not her first try.
The Medaglia d’Oro filly romped in her maiden debut at Churchill Downs last July 1, but didn’t factor next out in the Adirondack Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. Ever So Clever returned to Churchill for a half-length second in the Pocahontas Stakes (G2), captured an allowance at Keeneland, then closed out her juvenile campaign with a third-placing in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) back under the Twin Spires.
She’s been at Oaklawn since February, running fifth in both the Martha Washington Stakes and Honeybee Stakes (G3), but finally broke through in the Fantasy at 15-1 to earn a 90 BRIS Speed rating. Ever So Clever only brought six Kentucky Oaks points into the race but exited with 106 and third-place on the Leaderboard.