It is just 5 weeks until the 138th running of
the Kentucky Oaks on Friday May 4th at Churchill Downs and this
weekend has come up saturated with talented fields of improving sophomore
fillies. In what is easily the most exciting weekend of Kentucky Oaks preps so
far this year, no less than three graded stakes races will set sail from coast
to coast with some of the most promising 3-year-old fillies lining up to do
We begin with the Gulfstream Oaks (gr.2) at
Gulfstream Park this Saturday which features a return of the top three
finishers from last month’s Davona Dale Stakes. It’s the top two finishers from
the Davona Dale that will really be catching people’s attention at the betting
windows though, as 64-1 Davona Dale surprise winner, Yara, and Breeder’s Cup
Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) runner up, Grace Hall, square off once again after running
a thrilling stretch duel in the Davona Dale that saw Yara prevail by a neck.
Grace Hall was the heavy favorite to win her 2012 debut
in the Davona Dale but came up a little short of holding off Yara in the
stretch of the 1 1/16 mile Davona Dale. She ran a stellar campaign last year as
a juvenile, winning the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes and finishing her campaign with
just one loss, a decisive second place finish behind My Miss Aurelia in the
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It’s a good bet that she was a little short for
her debut in the Davona Dale and will be much sharper this time around. Trainer
Tony Dutrow has sent her out for two strong 5 furlong moves, including a
1:00.70 last week. The Gulfstream Oaks is the same 1 1/8 mile distance as the
Kentucky Oaks which should suit Grace Hall just fine. If she’s ever to prove
this is her division to rule with the absence of My Miss Aurelia, now is the
Yara is coming into her own at exactly the right time.
Her win in the Davona Dale was no fluke and she has won exactly half of her 6
lifetime starts now. She entered the Davona Dale off a very distant 4th
place finish to Broadway’s Alibi in the Forward Gal Stakes in late January,
which makes you wonder how good Broadway’s Alibi is if Yara was able to come
back and take down the biggest Kentucky Oaks gun in the nation. She has turned
in just two easy works in preparation for the Gulfstream Oaks, a 4 furlong
breeze in :50.00 flat, and most recently a 1:02.00 5 furlong move. Conditioning
won’t be a problem, trainer Jose Garoffalo just wants to keep her happy and fit
coming up to the big dance.
Captivating Lass finished a well beaten and distant third
behind Yara and Grace Hall in the Davona Dale and is back to try her hand at
the giants once again. She has made just four lifetime starts with two wins,
including a triumph in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct in early January. This is
a daughter of A. P. Indy which warrants respect right off the bat, but instinct
tells me she’s still not going to get to the top two on Saturday. She has
turned in three 4 furlong breezes since the Davona Dale last month, her latest
being a slow :49.92 move but this is another instance where trainer Kiaran
McLaughlin is only concerned with keeping his charge fit and ready to run, not peak.
One of the most intriguing entries in the race is the
undefeated Zo Impressive, a Hard Spun filly trained by Tom Albertrani. With
just a maiden win and an Allowance Optional Claiming race to her credit, you
might think this filly is worth overlooking. That is until you see the excellent
form that is holding up from the field she defeated in the Allowance Optional
Claiming race. For starters, second place finisher In Lingerie came back to
romp in the Bourbonette Oaks last Saturday while third place finisher, Goldrush
Girl returned to post a strong allowance win and 6th place finisher
Harbor Mist also returned a victor in her next outing. Zo Impressive seems to
be a slow worker by nature so it’s hard to gauge how much effect her last two
works will have on her performance in the race. Her most recent most was a
1:03.04 5 furlong crawl that bested her previous 1:03.90 5 furlong move.
Hearts of Red is another nice looking filly that seems to
be moving in the right direction as she enters the Gulfstream Oaks. She broke
her maiden on December 31st and followed that up with a 5 length
romp on February 8th in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. This
daughter of Lion Heart could have a lot of potential but might not be best suited
for this race.
Emma’s Encore, And Why Not and The Cat’s All That
complete the field. Of the three only Emma’s Encore appears to be a legitimate
contender. She enters off two straight scores at Gulfstream, a maiden win and a
March 14th Starter Optional Allowance race.
The Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) came up with a compact but
talented field of just 5 fillies for Saturday’s running of the 1 1/16 mile event.
Three graded stakes winners are in the field and two have a score to settle.
When they first met, Reneesgotzip and Eden’s Moon finished 1-2 in a maiden
race, with Reneesgotzip taking home the top prize under a front-running hand ride.
From there the City Zip filly went on to capture the Santa Ynez Stakes (gr.2)
by daylight while Eden’s Moon laid waste to a maiden field at Santa Anita,
winning by almost 12 lengths while in hand. The two fillies met once again in
both their respective third starts, the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes. Eden’s
Moon won going away by 3 ¼ lengths with Reneesgotzip a clear second but no
match for her rival in her first try at the 1 mile distance.
Once again both
fillies will face each other in the starting gate on Saturday and this time it
will be with an extra 1/16 of a mile added on. Eden’s Moon is bred for more
distance and should relish stretching out. She turned in a speedy :46.80 half
mile work before turning in an easy 1:28.00 seven furlong move in her most
recent work. Expect her to be fit and ready to run another big effort.
Reneesgotzip is a very talented filly and was compromised a little by blowing
the first turn in the Las Virgenes, but the longer the distances, get the more
challenged I think she will become. She turned in a blazing :58.60 5 furlong
work last week indicating she is extremely sharp and ready to run her ‘A’ game.
Willa B Awesome has already made 11 starts in her career
and 2 in 2012. She won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes in late January to begin
the year before finishing a distant 4th in the Las Virgenes. Her
latest work was a sharp :59.40 5 furlong move that ranked 4th best
out of 60. Bella’s Fantasy
and Conjure the Spirit
Summer Applause leads a small, capable cast of five other
3-year-old fillies in this year’s edition of the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2) and
will run as a solid favorite. The Harlan’s Holiday filly has won 3 of her last
4 starts. She most recently captured the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) at Fair
Grounds by a determined length after an impressive rally coming off the final
turn. She started the year with a second place finish, 1 ½ lengths behind
Believe You Can, in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds. Her three works
since the Rachel Alexandra have been excellent, especially her :59.60 five
furlong move on March 17th
and her most recent :47.60 half mile move. She looks ready to roll once again.
Believe You Can has won four of her seven lifetime
starts, including a victory over Summer Applause in the Silverbulletday Stakes
to begin the year. She finished a dull 4th in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes
after weakening at the top of the stretch but is coming into the Oaks with two
excellent 5 furlong works under her belt.
She could surprise and wind up making a good race of it if she can
bounce back from her poor effort last time out.
Disposablepleasure enters the Fair Grounds Oaks off a 4th
place finish in the Davona Dale Stakes in her 2012 debut. She finished out her
juvenile campaign with a maiden win and a game nose victory in the Demoiselle
Stakes (gr.2) at Aqueduct last year. Her latest breeze was a strong 1:00.70 five
furlong move. It appears she is coming into this race in good shape and should
run a better race than she did in the Davona Dale with the extra condition she
Small Kitchen is the wild card in the Fair Grounds Oaks
field this year. Undefeated in two starts, this daughter of Corinthian has won
both those starts by a combined margin of 13 lengths. She has never traveled
beyond 6 furlongs but has also never been tested. A 1:00.60 five furlong move
on March 24th signaled her race readiness. She is in excellent shape
and could be coming into her own at exactly the right time. Her biggest
obstacles will be her inexperience, the big step up in class and the 1 1/16
So there you have it, three prep races, two returning
rivalries and three fields packed with talent and potential. Grace Hall has the
potential to take back control of this division with a strong performance in
the Gulfstream Oaks as well as Eden’s Moon and Yara. Reneesgotzip has shown she
has talent but needs to prove she can carry that talent past 7 furlongs and
win. Summer Applause seems to have things well in hand at Fair Grounds but is
facing some fresh new intriguing talent. When it’s all said and done there
could be a much clearer image of who is headed for a shot at Kentucky Oaks
glory, and who is headed home after the dust clears on Saturday. I for one doubt
it will be Grace Hall or Eden’s Moon going home.