This year’s three-year-old filly division is the definition of wide open. Not a single juvenile miss from last year proved herself superior to the rest in any way. Having said this, it makes perfect sense that the top sophomore fillies of 2014 will likely emerge from the new shooters. Fillies that have not yet run in the big stakes, but with the talent to step up and prove best of their crop, are the ones I expect to carry the day in races like the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama. Two prime candidates for a meteoric rise to stardom in the division will meet Saturday at Fair Grounds. While the Lecomte, for the boys, might have been the headliner on the schedule, it is instead the Silverbulletday, featuring a showdown between Divine Beauty and Unbridled Forever that has my full attention.
One has never raced against anything but maidens, and the other’s stakes experience includes only a sprint stakes called the Letellier, but in only two races each, they already have performances I believe to be as strong as anything in the division.
Divine Beauty has the advantage of being familiar with the main track at Fair Grounds on her side. After gamely winning her career debut at Churchill Downs last September, the daughter of Divine Park used the listed stakes race in New Orleans as her coming out party. Owned and trained by the Jones boys, Divine Beauty won the six furlong Letellier by an eased-up 6 ½ lengths four weeks ago under Rosie Napravnik. Going from last to first like a shot, the bay filly won so easy that it is almost hard to believe that the runner-up that day, Street Story, came back to win the Dixie Belle at Oaklawn Park in her next start.
If Divine Beauty is indeed meant for big things, she will travel the same path as Believe You Can in 2012, who parlayed a win in the Silverbulletday into victories in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and Kentucky Oaks for the same team of Brereton Jones, Larry Jones, and Napravnik. As good as Divine Beauty looks, she may find the competition of Unbridled Forever too much to handle.
Unbridled Forever has never started at Fair Grounds before, but that is just about the only thing she does not have going for her. Trained by Dallas Stewart, the same conditioner who managed her dam, Lemons Forever, to a long shot score in the Kentucky Oaks back in 2006, Unbridled Forever showed ability, but came up a little short in her one-mile debut at Churchill Downs back in October. The bay daughter of Unbridled’s Song would not remain a maiden long, though, as she freaked in start number two for owner Charles Fipke.
As impressive as any juvenile race I saw at Churchill Downs all year for either sex, Unbridled Forever rolled home over the large field of well bred maidens by daylight. Blitzing the eleven other fillies from her outside post, she came home in 1:21 and change for the seven furlongs. I liked the performance so much she became my top Kentucky Oaks pick when the calendar turned to 2014. Stationed at New Orleans for the last month, she has a series of solid works over the strip.
Clearly these two impressive fillies have the rest of the Silverbulletday fillies over the proverbial barrel, with the only possible stumbling block being the two-turn nature of the $125,000 race. Frankly, I don’t expect the mile and 70 yards of the Silverbulletday to be a problem for either, though, based on pedigree and running style. As the first of Fair Grounds’ three-race sophomore filly series that concludes with the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 29, the winner will get a leg up on the race to the Kentucky Oaks, with five of the last nine Fair Grounds Oaks winners having gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks later in the spring.
Completing the Silverbulletday field is Ike and Dawn Thrash and Sam and Janet Alley’s Istanford, who scored a wire-to-wire victory by 2 ¾ lengths over the local turf course, L. T. B. and Hillerich Racing’s Express Model, an Indiana-bred with a state-bred stakes victory to her credit at Indiana Downs, Glockenburg LLC’s Army, who broke her maiden in her last start here on December 23, and Agave Racing Stable’s Awesome Jill, third behind Istanford in her turf win.