E. Paul Robsham Stable's homebred R HEAT LIGHTNING (Trippi) dominated Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks (G2) under jockey John Velazquez, romping by 8 1/4 lengths under her own power to finish 1 1/8 miles on the fast Gulfstream dirt in 1:49 1/5.
"She's starting to relax more in her races," Pletcher said. "She's not an easy filly to ride, but Johnny has gotten to know her and what to do. You're always a little concerned when they have to go wide in the first turn like that, but she was in the clear, which in the important thing."
Triune (E Dubai) led the way around the first turn, with Kindersley (Bernardini) keeping in close attendance before dropping back a little on the backstretch. Salary Drive (Mizzen Mast) stalked down on the rail, while R Heat Lightning was hung wide entering the backstretch. Velazquez settled her about three wide through splits of :23, :46 1/5 and 1:10 4/5 on the backside, but the Todd Pletcher charge quickly pulled her way into contention without any urging.
R Heat Lightning ranged up to the outside of Triune while Salary Drive was coming up the rail to the inside of that rival. Triune couldn't keep pace with the pair and began dropping back while Salary Drive attempted to take the advantage. R Heat Lightning was still on cruise control, though, and easily began pulling away while under a hand ride. Velazquez never even went to the whip, remaining chilly in the saddle until pushing her a bit nearing the wire to get a bit more conditioning into his swift mount.
"She relaxed really well again today. The race set up perfectly," said Velazquez, who rode four of Pletcher's five winners on the day. "They were going fast enough so we could track the pace and have something to run at. She was so relaxed and had plenty to finish. She made my day."
Favored at 3-5, R Heat Lightning paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. Island School (A.P. Indy) loped along at the back of the seven-filly field during the early running, but rallied in the stretch to take second by four lengths over Salary Drive.
Trainer Shug McGaughey said there's a distinct possibility that his runner-up Island School will once again try to challenge R Heat Lightning in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
"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. "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."
The previously unbeaten It's Tricky (Mineshaft), entering this one off an eight-length score in the Busher S., followed in fourth by another 10 lengths as the 8-5 second betting choice.
"It's surprising. We thought she'd be on the lead or closer to the lead and she was just a little dull today in the race. Maybe the change in climate coming from New York to here might have been a factor," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "She looks fine. She was just quiet out of the gate."
Kindersley and Triune completed the order under the wire after Beso Grande (Mass Media) was eased in the final eighth.
R Heat Lightning suffered the only non top-two finish of her career when fourth in the Forward Gal S. (G2) in her January 30 sophomore debut. She quickly returned to form last out, though, when dominating the Davona Dale S. (G2) by 7 1/4 lengths. With this final prep for her main early season goal of the May 6 Kentucky Oaks, the bay miss boosted her lifetime earnings to $952,800 and shows an 8-4-3-0 career mark.
R Heat Lightning began her racing career with a five-length maiden debut victory at Delaware Park last July 5. She then finished second in her stakes bow, the Colleen S., at Monmouth Park before recording a four-length victory in the September 5 Spinaway S. (G1) at Saratoga. The filly closed out her juvenile campaign with runner-up finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs and Frizette S. (G1) at Belmont Park.
Pletcher said he wasn't surprised by R Heat Lightning's sparkling performance on Saturday.
"I wasn't surprised that she ran that kind of race today after the way she ran the last time, and she ran almost as fast as Awesome Maria (Maria's Mon)," said Pletcher, referring to the 1:49 clocking of four-year-old Awesome Maria's Rampart (G3) score. "I didn't think she got quite the respect she deserved after winning the Spinaway and finishing second in the Breeders' Cup last year, but now I think she'll be recognized at the head of the class."
The Florida-bred sophomore is the second registered foal out of the winning Gold Fever mare Yellow Heat, making her a full sister to last year's Go for Wand S. third Hot Trip and a half-sibling to an unnamed yearling colt by High Cotton.
R Heat Lightning's fourth dam is 1970 Prioress S. winner Exclusive Dancer (Native Dancer), who would go on to really make a name for herself in the breeding shed. Among Exclusive Dancer's offspring is General Assembly (Secretariat), who captured the 1978 Hopeful S. (G1) and 1979 Travers S. (G1) as well as ran second in the latter year's Kentucky Derby (G1); multiple Grade 3 heroine Expressive Dance (Riva Ridge); and Grade 2 runner-up Ten Cents a Dance (Buckpasser).
Upon retirement, Expressive Dance would produce Grade 1 winner Chief Honcho (Chief's Crown) as well as the dams of last year's Queen Elizabeth II S. (Eng-G1) victor Poet's Voice (Dubawi) and multiple Grade 2 scorer American Chance (Cure the Blues). Ten Cents a Dance would do even better as a broodmare, foaling multiple Grade 1 queen Versailles Treat (Danzig), herself the dam of Grade 2 victor Saarland (Unbridled).
Others of note in this line include Grade 1 star Gold Fever (Forty Niner) as well as Grade 1-placed Grade 3 winners Haka (Dynaformer), Gemswick Park (Speightstown) and Out of Place (Cox's Ridge).