The Wood Memorial may have been the most shocking upset of the season but Lilacs and Lace did her best to steal the spotlight this weekend with a 48-1 upset in the Ashland Stakes (gr.1) at Keeneland on Saturday. In a field that included heavy favorite Kathmanblu as well as multiple graded stakes winner Dancinginherdreams and Wyomia, Delightful Mary and Bouquet Booth, it was Lilacs and Lace who led almost gate-to-wire for the win.
Entering off a 4th place thrashing in the Bourbonette Stakes (gr.3) behind Summer Soiree, Lilacs and Lace broke quickly from the gate and outgunned both Delightful Mary and Bouquet Booth for the lead. Kathmanblu and Dancinginherdreams raced side by side towards the rear of the tightly bunched field as Lilacs and led them through an opening quarter in :24.04. Down the backstretch Kathmanblu moved up to sixth position with Dancinginherdreams second last. On the front end Lilacs and Lace continued to move comfortably under jockey Javier Castellano, Delightful Mary just a half length behind to her outside with Excited and Bouquet Booth close behind. Wyomia and Kathmanblu ran in fifth and sixth respectively, just noses apart. As the field continued through a half in :47.95, Lilacs and Lace began to edge clear of Delightful Mary as she led the pack into the far turn.
Midway around the turn Kathmanblu began to close with a rush, moving up along the outside of horses as Wyomia cut through the middle of the pack to move into second coming off the turn. Lilacs and Lace held a one length advantage over Wyomia as the field thundered into the homestretch. From behind Kathmanblu was now just a length behind Wyomia and under a full drive. With a few taps of the whip Lilacs and Lace opened up by two lengths on Wyomia at the top of the stretch as Kathmanblu appeared to be struggling to make up ground on the front two from the middle of the track. With less than a furlong remaining Wyomia began to make up ground once again, cutting the lead Lilacs and Lace had extended down to just one length at the wire with Kathmanblu two lengths back in third.
The winner sports a record of 3 wins in her last five starts and is obviously getting better. Her win in the Ashland goes a long way in flattering the form of Summer Soiree who soundly defeated Lilacs and Lace in the 1 mile Bourbonette last month.
Kathmanblu appeared to tire slightly in her first start on Polytrack after beginning a strong run in the stretch. She should benefit from a fitness standpoint and will be going into the Oaks with massive amounts of foundation and conditioning.
Wyomia ran a great race to finish second and has to now be considered a serious Kentucky Oaks contender. She possesses a terrific closing kick and appears to be able to launch her best run from far back, mid-pack or just off the pace, talk about versatile.
Dancinginherdreams finished a shocking last in the Ashland after failing to run a single competitive step in the race. Ever since her Forward Gal miss she has been moving backwards in each start. Either something is physically wrong with her or she has just lost the will to win.
Lilacs and Lace wasn’t the only filly flattering the form of some of the big girls this weekend as Hot Summer took a big leap forward when she captured the Comely Stakes (gr.3) at Aqueduct on Saturday. In her last start Hot Summer finished fifth, more than fifteen lengths behind R Heat Lightning in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr.2).
She showed guts in the 1 mile Comely Stakes to come from just off the pace set by R Holiday Mood, slipping through a narrow hole at the top of the stretch to skim along the rail and surge through to the lead. From there she gradually pulled away to win by two lengths, easily holding off Her Smile for the win. Her Smile entered the Comely off a third place finish to Wyomia in the Suncoast Stakes on March 12th.
1) Joyful Victory – Oaklawn Park has proven to be a terrific launching pad for the Kentucky Oaks and Joyful Victory owns Oaklawn this season. She has romped to back-to-back victories in the Honeybee (gr.3) and Fantasy Stakes (gr.2) by a combined margin of 15 ¾ lengths, all without once feeling the whip. She will be shipping into Churchill Downs at the close of the Oaklawn meet April 16th to continue preparations for the Kentucky Oaks which will be her first try at 1 1/8 miles. Her running style is perfectly suited for more distance and she hasn’t come close to being tested yet this year.
2) R Heat Lightning – She finished 4th in the Forward Gal Stakes to begin the year but has now won two Grade 2 races in-a-row by 15 ½ lengths, all without feeling the whip. Sound Familiar? She and Joyful Victory share the exact same running style, rating just behind the pacesetters and then exploding to the lead and pouring it on down the stretch to demolish the field. She won the Gulfstream Oaks (gr.2) last out at 1 1/8 miles which proves she can get the distance, whether or not it will best set her up for the Kentucky Oaks or not remains to be seen. Sometimes a 1 1/16 mile race can be a better final prep for the Kentucky Oaks.
3) Kathmanblu – I hate putting her below R Heat Lightning in third but she just didn’t show anything close to the kind of kick the top two showed in her last two starts. She seemed kind of flat in the Ashland, maybe it was because she didn’t like the Polytrack as well as dirt and turf but she didn’t look all that inspiring in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) either. The good news is that she had to work hard for her third place finish in the Ashland which will put a lot of conditioning and bottom into her. Her best race to date is still her Golden Rod romp at Churchill Downs last year over the same dirt strip as the Kentucky Oaks, so there’s still a ton of upside with this filly.
4) Zazu – She’s halfway through her 9 week wait to the Kentucky Oaks. On May 6th she went five furlongs in 1:02.00, a very slow time. On April 9th she went six furlongs in 1:14.60, another slow time but speed isn’t the issue right now, she just needs to stay fit and there are approximately three and half weeks left for her to sharpen up. Trainer John Sadler has worked her 4, 5 and finally 6 furlongs which is a perfect way to gradually build up her endurance and fitness. She has posted three easy works since her Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) runner up finish.
5) Plum Pretty – In her four race career Plum Pretty went from winning a maiden race at 6 furlongs, to finishing third behind California Nectar and Zazu in the 7 furlong Santa Ynez (gr.3) , as well as finishing third behind Zazu and Turbulent Descent in the 1 mile Las Virgenes Stakes (gr.1). Even though she race well against such good competition in just her second and third career starts it was her 25 length romp in the Sunland Park Oaks that really caught everyone’s attention. She won in a great time of 1:43.18 for the 1 1/16 miles while earning a Beyer of 99. She fired off a bullet four furlong work in :46.60 on April 7th in her first work since her overpowering win, proving that she is still incredibly sharp. As the distance increases in each of her starts she gets better and better.
6) Summer Soiree – She won the Bourbonette Oaks (gr.3) on the front by more than 10 lengths before being purchased by Team Valor and transferred to the barn of trainer H. Graham Motion from Larry Jones. The Broubonette Oaks was only 1 mile long but she began the year with a win in a 1 1/16 mile allowance at Oaklawn Park, winning by 9 ¾ lengths. That means she has won both her starts this year by more than 20 combined lengths. She’s by War Front which means that she probably won’t learn to be ratable in the Kentucky Oaks and also means that if she’s to win or run a competitive race at Churchill she will need to conserve something for the homestretch.
7) Wyomia – She ran another competitive race in the Ashland to finish second after finding her best stride a little late. She will greatly appreciate and benefit from the extra 1/16 mile in the Kentucky Oaks. Her form was flattered over the weekend when Her Smile finished a solid second in the 1 mile Comely behind Hot Summer. Expect her to keep impoving as the Oaks approaches. She had only two four furlong works before the Ashland and still ran a great race. Imagine what she could do with some stiff five and six furlong works put in her.
8) Arienza – This filly continues to do her famous parents proud. She gave Joyful Victory a short lived scare in the Fantasy Stakes on Sunday when she got the jump heading in the stretch and poured it on down the stretch. She appeared to tire a little approaching the wire but that’s to be expected as she ran without any works between the Fantasy and her March 27th allowance win. She will most likely ship to Churchill Downs where a final decision about her Oaks participation will be made.
9) Lilacs and Lace – Have to include her on the list now after the way she defeated the Ashland field so decisively. She was able to keep pulling away from the pack down the stretch after setting the pace up front before Wyomia cut into her lead but she was still running very strong at the end. She went straight from her 4th place finish in the Bourbonette into the Ashland without any works between and has her sights set on the Kentucky Oaks now. She set reasonable fractions in the Ashland and finished up in a good time of 1:42.73 which bodes well for her if she faces pace pressure in the Kentucky Oaks.
[Lilacs and Lace is currently ranked very low at #96 on HRN's Kentucky Oaks Contenders page]
Daisy Devine, Hot Summer and Holy Heavens. Daisy Devine was clocked in a speedy four furlong move that she completed in an excellent time of :46.40 on April 8th. The Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2) winner will train up to the Kentucky Oaks. Holy Heavens ran another good race in the Fantasy Stakes, finishing third, 1 ¼ lengths behind Arienza. She closed from far back again and made up a huge amount of ground on the top two. The extra distance in the Kentucky Oaks should be very much to her liking. Decided to drop Dancinginherdreams from the list as I'm unsure of what her status is right now for the Kentucky Oaks. If she comes out of the Ashland fine and starts rattling off some strong works she could make her way back into the rankings.
Photo Courtesy of Anne M. Eberhardt