The Gulfstream Oaks has come up with a diverse field of 7 three-year-old fillies set to contest the $300,000 race. Run in previous years as the Bonnie Miss Stakes the Grade 2 event is led by the Todd Pletcher trained R Heat Lightning, impressive winner of the Davona Dale Stakes last out, and the undefeated Kiaran McLaughlin trainee It’s Tricky.
R Heat Lightning will undoubtedly go off as the post time favorite as she enters off the biggest win of her young career when capturing the February 26th Davona Dale by 7 ¼ lengths in one of the most dominant Kentucky Oaks preps of the season. Last year the talented daughter of Trippi won the Spinaway Stakes (gr.1) before running second in both the Grade 1 Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She finished fourth in the Forward Gal stakes in her first start of the year before exploding in the Davona Dale. She signified her readiness to run in the Gulfstream Oaks on Sunday when she posted a bullet :47.60 four furlong move, the fastest of 60 to work at that distance.
It’s Tricky is undefeated in three lifetime starts, all at Aqueduct. She won her maiden race last year on November 28th before returning on January 26th to win an Optional Claiming Allowance race in hand by more than four lengths. Her next start in the Busher Stakes on February 20th was what really got people’s attention and earned her real respect. Racing in second all down the backside, It’s Tricky moved up around the far turn in the Busher and took the lead all on her own. In the stretch she exploded to a two length lead with relish when jockey Eddie Castro shook the reins at her. From there it was just a formality as to who would finish second as the Mineshaft filly won by 8 lengths, eased in the final few strides. She will be ridden by Alan Garcia in the Gulfstream Oaks for the first time since her maiden win.
Five other sophomore fillies will contest the 1 1/8 mile Gulfstream Oaks; Salary Drive, Triune, Kindersley, Beso Grande and Island School. Of those remaining five Beso Grande and Salary Drive both enter off allowance wins at Gulfstream. Beso Grand enters off a 2 ½ length win in a February 17th allowance score where fellow Gulfstream Oaks contender Island School finished third. Salary Drive won an allowance on March 6th by about two lengths on a sloppy track. Triune will be making her first start on dirt after finishing 4th in the Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr.3) on turf March 13th. Kindersley won her maiden going gate to wire on February 16th at Gulfstream.
R Heat Lightning and It’s Tricky are the only stakes proven fillies in the field and it appears to be a virtual two-horse race. It’s Tricky has never been tested in her three starts but is loaded with potential. In each start she has stepped up her performance every time. With each new challenge she seems to win bigger and more easily. In all three of her lifetime starts she has shown good tactical speed coming out of the gate and placed herself in second just behind the pacesetter where she can kick away rapidly in the stretch.
R Heat Lightning tends run close to the lead in the majority of her races or set the pace as was the case in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She has run a little farther off the pace in her two starts this year than she did in 2010, running in fourth or fifth place while staying within striking distance. Both fillies will be trying the 1 1/8 mile distance of the Gulfstream Oaks for the first time. With the added distance R Heat Lightning will probably sit close behind the pacesetters with It’s Tricky a little farther up.
If It’s Tricky can settle into a good position behind the frontrunners she could get the jump on R Heat Lightning in the stretch, she’s proven to be just as much of a push button filly as R Heat Lightning was in the Davona Dale, now it’s just a question of class she needs to answer. On the other hand R Heat Lightning is in peak form right now and could be getting even better. She’s bested some of the top fillies in country including Joyful Victory and Dancinginherdreams and ran one of her best races in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at the 1 1/16 miles distance.
From a pedigree standpoint It’s Tricky looks most likely to relish the 1 1/8 miles as a daughter of Mineshaft who traces back to Mr. Prospector as well as Seattle Slew through her grandsire A. P. Indy.
So will it be the Grade 1 winning filly who dominates at Gulfstream or will the undefeated, unproven filly from New York prove her mettle?
Photo Courtesy of Coglianese Photos