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Kentucky Oaks Report - April 28

BEHOLDER (No. 1) - Santa Anita Oaks (GI) heroine Beholder went trackside at Churchill Downs Sunday morning at 7 o’clock following her flight from her California headquarters on Saturday.
 
On her back was former jockey and current exercise rider David Neusch and at her side was her Hall of Fame conditioner, Richard Mandella, who like his 2-year-old filly champion has set up shop in Kentucky for the week with Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) squarely in their sights.
 
“We galloped her a mile and one eighth,” Mandella said afterward, which just happens to be the same distance she’ll be asked to run in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks. “We might let her pick up her gallop a little bit later in the week, but I’m pretty happy with where we are right now. I worked her seven-eighths at Santa Anita (last Thursday in 1:27.80) and that’s about all we had left to do.”
 
Beholder, owned by the Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes and a half-sister to the farm’s successful young stallion Into Mischief, has banked more than $1.5 million in her brief career thus far, including five wins (three of them Grade I stakes) in eight starts. She’ll once again be handled Friday by Garrett Gomez, the only rider she’s ever known.
 
CLOSE HATCHES (No. 5) / FLASHY GRAY (No. 6) – Juddmonte Farms LLC’s undefeated Close Hatches completed her serious Kentucky Oaks conditioning Sunday morning with a half-mile breeze in :47.40, timed from the half-mile pole to the wire, under exercise rider Joanna Trout.

 

Over a “fast” track that was drying out during the Oaks and Derby session, Churchill Downs clockers recorded splits of :11.40 and :23.20, as well as a five-eighths gallop-out time of 1:00.40. The speed-laden First Defence filly broke off sharply at the 4 ½-furlong marker and, combining that with her strong gallop-out into the first turn, effectively worked an effortless 5 ½ furlongs.

 
“What you saw is what I expected given her work last week,” trainer Bill Mott said. “We just let her go by herself. She’s aggressive and full of herself so I thought she didn’t need company to breeze with; she’d do enough on her own. I just told Jo to let her go off smooth, keep it as smooth as possible and to let her have a normal gallop out.”
 
Even coming into nine-furlong races such as the Oaks or her previous start, the Gazelle (GII), Close Hatches does not work longer distances.

 

“She’s on the aggressive side but that’s her game,” said Garrett O’Rourke, Juddmonte’s Kentucky farm manager. “That’s why we’re only going a half with her, because she gets a lot out of her gallops every day. When you break her off she’s immediately into her work and she gallops out well, too, so she gets a lot out of her daily routine and her workouts.”

 

The training regimen does not suggest that Close Hatches will amend her recent front-running style despite a predominance of speed in the Oaks. Her class, though, should help her to carry that speed regardless of who else is on the lead or how fast they go.

 

“It’s one of the greatest pedigrees in the stud book if you go back to, when we got involved in it, (third dam) Monroe. She was all speed. Then we’ve got Xaar, who was a champion 2-year-old, but more of a miler. Then you look at the whole family and you’ve got Blush With Pride, from the same family, and she won the Kentucky Oaks (in 1982). If you look at the whole family, there have been Grade I winners sprinting, milers, middle-distance horses, and there’s even a two-mile Group I winner in there, Chief Contender. This is a family that’s just good. With any speed horse there’s a distance concern but she’s already won the Gazelle and there’s no reason she can’t do it again.”

 

Meanwhile, West Point Thoroughbreds and Tom Keithley’s Flashy Gray went back to the track one day after posting a five-furlong move in 1:01.

 
“She came out good,” Mott said. “We gave her a mile jog just to get her a little light exercise and get her out of the barn. She seemed to be feeling good and we were pleased with her work yesterday. She worked in company – she’s a little more laid-back than the other filly – so we put her in company and gave her a little bit of a target. When asked, she drew away from her target the last eighth of a mile and galloped out nicely.”
 
DREAMING OF JULIA (No. 4) / PRINCESS OF SYLMAR (No. 7) / SILSITA (No. 9) / UNLIMITED BUDGET (No. 3) – The Todd Pletcher Oaks contingent all came out of their Saturday works well and went back to the racetrack Sunday morning when fears of an “off” track and unsavory weather conditions proved not true.
       

 

Gulfstream Oaks (GII) winner Dreaming of Julia, Bourbonette Oaks (GIII) heroine Silsita and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) star Unlimited Budget jogged a mile on the Churchill Downs strip, which was termed “good” for their pre-break exercise. Stablemate Princess of Sylmar, second in the Gazelle Stakes (GII) last out, galloped a mile.

 
"Everyone is doing well,” Pletcher said.

 

Riding assignments on the trainer’s Oaks runners are locked in: John Velazquez for Dreaming of Julia, Gary Stevens for Silsita, Javier Castellano for Unlimited Budget and Mike Smith for Princess of Sylmar.

 
Pletcher will be seeking his third Kentucky Oaks (GI) victory. He won with two champions previously – Ashado in 2004 and Rags to Riches in 2007.
 
MIDNIGHT LUCKY (No. 8) – Trainer Bob Baffert had good things to say about Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman’s Midnight Lucky Sunday after she breezed five furlongs in :59.60 with exercise rider Dana Barnes in the irons.
 
Undefeated after two career starts, the gray filly prepped for Friday’s Oaks with the fourth fastest of 42 works at the distance. Starting about three lengths behind stablemate and Derby prospect Code West, she turned in split times of :12.40, :24.40; :36.60 and : 48.  She finished about a half-length in front of Code West. The six-furlong gallop out time was 1:11.80.
 
“She’s always worked well and we’ve always been high on her,” Baffert said. “She’s an exceptional filly. She went really well today. She worked with Code West and sat off him coming down the lane. She worked really well and I really liked what I saw. She had to work well like that for me to throw her in with the wolves. She looks like she’s doing well, so she’s going the right way.”
 
Baffert said he had the filly work with Code West to keep her focused.
 
And Baffert said the Oaks will be a real test for his Sunland Park Oaks winner.
 
“It’s probably the toughest Oaks field I’ve seen,” he said. “You could just give the Eclipse Award that day.”
 
PURE FUN (No. 11) Magdalena Racing’s Pure Fun walked the shedrow at Barn 6, which is standard protocol for trainer Ken McPeek on Sundays.

 

“We give them an easy day, for the help and the horses,” assistant trainer Phil Bauer said.

 

Pure Fun will not post an official breeze coming into the Oaks. The Pure Prize filly raced in the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) on April 20 and does not require much in the way of additional conditioning to run back 13 days later.

 

“She might do an aggressive gallop here or there this week but there are no works planned at this point,” Bauer said. “She seems to be hitting the ground good here.”

 

Pure Fun, winner of the Hollywood Starlet (GI) in December, will be back on the track Monday at 8:30 a.m. during the Derby and Oaks training session.

 
ROSE TO GOLD (No. 2) – Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centrofanti’s Rose to Gold walked the shedrow at Barn 43 on Sunday morning.
 
A three-time Grade III winner, Rose to Gold is scheduled to return to the track Monday after walking two days following a half-mile work in  :47.80 under jockey Calvin Borel. That move was the second fastest of 51 that day at the distance.
 
Trainer Sal Santoro is scheduled to arrive in Louisville Monday night and be at the barn Tuesday.
 
SEANEEN GIRL (No. 10) – Jockey Rosie Napravnik, who picked up the mount on Seaneen Girl for the Oaks, will be working her shortly after the track opens for training Monday morning, trainer Bernie Flint said Sunday.

 

“I’m going to use the jockey this time as we get close to the race,’’ Flint said.

 

Martin Garcia rode Seaneen Girl when she finished third in the Fair Grounds Oaks in her most recent start.

 

“I’m probably going to gallop a mile and work her a half a mile, said Flint, who trains Seaneen Girl for Naveed Chowhan.

 

“She’s not small,’’ Flint said of Seaneen Girl, a chestnut daughter of Spring At Last. “She’s not big. She’s an average-sized horse. If you’re looking for a middle-of-the-road horse, that’s what you’re looking for.’’

 

Flint said that Seaneen Girl stands 15 hands, 2 to 3 inches. “But she’s only 2,’’ he said. “She won’t turn 3 until after the race. She was born in the latter part of May, like the 18th of May. She’s just a baby. I keep trying to tell that to people. You can’t keep on hammering on (her). …

 

“But then again, there’s an advantage to that. They stay sound, hopefully. She’s an athlete, and she loves the track. She loves the place. I know she’s going to love Rosie. As far as I’m concerned, she will. She’s a great rider. She’s on a good horse. You can’t ask for no more.’’

 

Under exercise rider Edward “Rocky’’ Seely, Seaneen Girl galloped Sunday during the training time reserved for Derby/Oaks runners. Flint said he does look at the competition.

 

“I just shake my head and walk back; that’s all,’’ he said. “I feel like Mine That Bird against all those Derby horses, you know. It makes me feel that way. He was just an average-sized, little horse. He wasn’t an average-sized horse. He was a little horse. Now, she’s an average-sized filly … but I look at them. I see them go around there. … Everybody’s out there at the same time. They’re all going around there. You look. ‘Look at this one. Look at this one.’ But my mare floats along the ground. She loves the place. Horses for courses I’ve said, and I’m going to say it again. It’s got to be beneficial to us. I’m just sure it’s going to be that way. I’ve got that feeling.”

 

In Seaneen Girl’s only start at Churchill, where she has been based since being purchased privately last fall, she won the Golden Rod (G2) on Nov. 24 in her last race as a 2-year-old. 

 

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