If the Florida Derby was touted as the deepest Kentucky Derby prep of the season for the colts than the $400,000 Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes is certainly the deepest prep of the year for the Kentucky Oaks. Entered in the premier race for 3-year-old fillies are no less than 4 graded stakes winners. If the quality of the field was weighed in on scales as they stand in the gate, the scales would flip over towards the inside rail.
Breaking from post position number one is Grade 3 winner Bouquet Booth who will be making her third start of the year for trainer Steve Margolis. She began her 2011 campaign with a solid win in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, winning by a neck over future Fair Grounds Oaks winner Daisy Devine. She closed out her juvenile year with a win in the Delta Downs Princess Stakes (Gr.3) where she handily defeated Niji’s Grand Girl. She finished fourth to Kathmanblu and Inglorious in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) after making a move at the top of the stretch that flattened out, snapping her three race win streak. She has posted three 5 furlong works since her Rachel Alexandra Stakes run, each one faster than the last with her latest move coming in 1:00.00 at Keeneland. She figures to be very close to the pace or on the lead.
Lilacs and Lace will break from post position two. She started the year with a 1 ½ length victory over Cathy’s Crunches in a super slow California Oaks and then finished fourth behind Summer Soiree in the Bourbonette Oaks on March 26th. She has not posted any works since her Bourbonette Oaks thrashing two weeks ago and will have to pick up her game to be competitive in the 1 1/16 mile Ashland.
Wyomia breaks from post position three. Last year Wyomia won the 1 1/16 mile Mazarine Stakes (gr.3) over Woodbine’s all weather surface on the front end in a very impressive performance Turning back the challenge of Delightful Mary at the head of the stretch, Wyomia powered to a 2 ¾ length win in the Mazarine. She closed out her 2010 juvenile campaign with a 6th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr.1) before opening up 2011 with a win in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs where she showed a new dimension. During her juvenile campaign the Vindication filly liked to be on the front end or contesting the lead but in the Suncoast she rated far off the pace before moving up as they field entered the homestretch, sweeping around fillies before darting to the inside of horses and running down Devilish Lady at the wire to win by a head in a hand ride. If either one of the favorites falter in the Ashland this filly could easily be there to pick up the pieces and become a serious Kentucky Oaks contender.
Breaking from post position four is Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) third place finisher Delightful Mary. The Limehouse filly began her career last year with two wins at Woodbine before her runner up to Wyomia in the Mazarine Stakes. She then finished third behind Awesome Feather and R Heat Lightning in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to finish her 2010 season. She opened 2011 with a victory in an exhibition race at Ocala on March 14 and has worked once at Keeneland since, a 5 furlong move she completed in 1:00.20, ranking as the third fasted of 64 works at the distance. Trainer Mark Casse is confident in his filly’s abilities and even feels that she could be the one to beat if she brings her “A” game on Saturday.
If Dancinginherdreams is ever to take control of her own division, now is the time. In only four lifetime starts the Tapit filly has become one of the nation’s most respected juvenile and now sophomore runners and on Saturday she returns to Keeneland, the scene of her dominant maiden win. She enters the Ashland Stakes off the worst defeat of her short career, having finished 7 ¼ behind R Heat Lightning in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr.2) at Gulfstream Park after just missed by a ¼ length to Pomeroy’s Pistol in the Forward Gal Stakes to open her 2011 campaign. Her performance in the Davona Dale had many including myself scratching their heads and wondering what happened after she sat much closer to the pace than usual and showed none of the dazzling drive that has made her so popular and respected as a juvenile. She has turned in three easy works since her runner up in the Davona Dale with trainer John Ward stating, “My filly is a little on the lighter side, so I don’t want to train her as hard now.” She will have regular jockey Julien Leparoux on board once again and will be stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in the Ashland for the first time, something that should prove to be a huge benefit with her come-from-behind style.
Kathmanblu will break from post position six, just one up from Dancinginherdreams. The 9-5 favorite comes streaking into the Ashland Stakes with three consecutive stakes wins behind her, two in graded stakes. She started the successive string of victories with a huge performance in the Golden Rod Stakes (gr.2) when she won by more than 8 lengths at Churchill Downs. Next she started her 2011 campaign with an easy romp in the Sweetest Chant Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Pak before winning the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds by 1 ½ lengths over Inglorious. Trainer Kenny McPeek has made no secret of the fact that he wanted his filly much sharper for the Ashland than she was for the Rachel Alexandra and it looks like he got his wish. On April 2nd Kathmanblu went 5 furlongs in a blistering :59.00 flat, easily earning the bullet as the fastest work of the day. She is fit, ready, talented and experienced, now the only thing she needs to prove is her ability to run well over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface but seeing as she’s a wonder over dirt and turf I don’t think a little thing like synthetics are going to bother her. With regular rider Julien Leparoux committed to riding Dancinginherdreams for the Ashland, Kathmanblu will be ridden by Alan Garcia for the first time.
Breaking from post nine is Excited, runner up to Kathmanblu in the Sweetest Chant Stakes at the start of the year and 3rd place finisher in the March 13th Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr.3) behind Dynamic Holiday. She will be making her first start on polytrack as all her other lifetime starts have come on turf.
The rest of the field is made of Grand Style and Draw It who have entered just so they can say they ran with the “Big Girls” at one time.
So many of the fillies entered are at that point in their sophomore campaigns where they are approaching the peak of their spring form which makes choosing a winner very tough. Kathmanblu is a deserving favorite and enters of a very sharp work, proving she is in top form and probably ready to run much better than she ran in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes. Dancinginherdreams returns to Keeneland for the first time since her maiden win last October and finally gets the extra distance she has been craving. Wyomia is a tough, versatile runner who always gives it her best shot and enters off a sharp 4 furlong breeze.
I think with the return to Keeneland Dancinginherdreams has the edge here. I’ve been going along with the favorites almost all year because their form is holding up extraordinarily well but this time I’m going to risk it and throw my allegiance with Dancinginherdreams even though Kathmanblu scares me. If there is a solid pace on the front end and Julien allows Dancinginherdreams to drop well off the pace we should see the stretch-running wonder back again. Kathmanblu will most likely be racing just off the pacesetters which will give her an opportunity to get the jump on Dancinginherdreams and we all know what kind of engine lurks beneath that shimmering bay coat. I really like Wyomia and think she could run a very competitive race here as well as Delightful Mary but the two favorites should hold sway if all goes smoothly.
One thing is certain; the Ashland Stakes will have a huge impact on the composition of the Kentucky Oaks.
[The Ashland is sure to shake up the 2011 Kentucky Oaks Contender list, check it out now!]