Trainer Todd Pletcher holds a strong hand in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, with undefeated Onlyforyou and stablemate Stopchargingmaria looming as the class of the eight-filly field. The local stepping stone to the March 29 Gulfstream Oaks, the 1 1/16-mile affair offers 50 Kentucky Oaks points to the winner.
"They are two nice fillies," Pletcher said. "I hate to run them against each other."
Onlyforyou has been dominant in her three career starts, all in sprints. After rolling to a debut win at Aqueduct November 10, the Glencrest Farm colorbearer dusted entry-level allowance foes at Gulfstream on December 15, and wired the January 25 Forward Gal going seven furlongs. Although Onlyforyou stretches out to two turns for the first time here, the daughter of Malibu Moon figures to handle the distance.
"I would imagine coming out of the sprint races that she would be prominently placed early," Pletcher said. "It's always kind of been in the back of our mind to keep stretching her out. The Forward Gal we felt like was the right opportunity at the right time, and a solid building block for this race as well.
"I'm not overly concerned about her stretching you, because she has trained so well and always indicated to us that she won't have an issue doing it," Pletcher said. "Until you do it, you don't know for sure. She's giving us all the right signs. She's been training great and she's galloped out great. We know she likes the track, so there's a lot going positive for her."
Javier Castellano, who has been the regular rider for both Pletcher fillies, takes the reins aboard Onlyforyou.
Repole Stable's Stopchargingmaria has two-turn experience, having captured the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle at Aqueduct last time out on November 30, but concedes the recency edge to her stablemate. The Tale of the Cat filly has been competing in stakes ever since her debut romp at Saratoga. Second in the Spinaway and third in the Frizette, Stopchargingmaria turned in a breakout performance in the November 3 Tempted, drawing off by 10 lengths around the one-turn mile. Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was aboard for her maiden win, reunites with her.
"We freshened her up a little bit with this race in mind," Pletcher said. "She finished up great in the Demoiselle and had two big wins to close out the year. We were thinking of getting her two prep races, hopefully, for the Kentucky Oaks, and this seemed a logical place to start."
Darley Stable's blueblood Penwith tried to steal the Demoiselle, and nearly succeeded before giving way grudgingly in a close third. The Kiaran McLaughlin pupil came back to take a January 2 Gulfstream allowance in a photo. With a race over the track, the daughter of champion Bernardini and multiple Grade 1 queen Composure hopes to turn the tables on Stopchargingmaria.
"She ran very well that day," McLaughlin said of the Demoiselle. "We've always liked her. She's very well bred and she's been running well every time since after her first race. We do hope that she's a top three-year-old filly.
"It was just time to run her and keep going," McLaughlin added regarding her allowance tilt in the interim. "We think she's a very nice filly and belongs in here. It's a tough race, but she's doing real well. She would like to go further, but it's ok. It's a good prep for the Gulfstream Oaks. We'll give it our best shot."
Also aiming to reverse form is Aurelia's Belle, who chased Onlyforyou in second at every call in the Forward Gal. She has a 2 3/4-length deficit to make up, but the Lemon Drop Kid filly from the family of Althea is entitled to improve over the added ground.
"We were pleased with her last race," trainer Wayne Catalano said. "She ran good, and she worked good since then. She's doing good. We're very happy with her."
Aurelia's Belle has arguably exceeded expectations in her sprint races. Up in time in a six-furlong maiden on Keeneland's Polytrack, she was a belated third next time in the January 4 Old Hat at Gulfstream.
The well-bred House Rules makes her stakes debut in this spot for Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens. By Distorted Humor, and the first foal from Argentinean Group 2 heroine Teamgeist, she has turned the proverbial corner in her past two starts. Best of the rest behind Please Explain, the subsequent winner of the Suncoast in grand style, in a December 19 maiden at this track and trip, House Rules drove to a 5 3/4-length maiden tally here on January 17.
Rounding out the field are Brave Raj winner Holiday Magic, most recently third in the OBS Championship for fillies; Luna Santa, exiting a fifth in the fillies' division of the OBS Sprint; and Abou, a debut winner at Tampa for Joan Scott.