I was recently asked who my top 3 Kentucky Oaks fillies were as of now, and after thinking about how refreshing it was for a little break from Derby fever, I quickly responded with Princess Arabella, Grace Hall, and On Fire Baby. While the first two have their respective coasts covered, it is the filly down in Hot Springs, Arkansas that I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for. Maybe it’s because she is taking a similar path that Rachel Alexandra took three years ago, or maybe it is just because the Red Dog Hartlage gray is a really fun filly to watch. The news that came out of Oaklawn Park this morning did nothing to lessen my belief that the daughter of Smoke Glacken may be the genuine article, and very capable of wearing the Louisville lilies in a few short months. You can tell her veteran trainer was pleased with today’s work.
“It went just like it was planned,” said Hartlage shortly after this morning’s breeze under jockey Joe Johnson. “She just went nice and easy and Joe just sat still on her. She pricked her ears and did her business and went in just about 12s every lick, so we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
As has been her norm this winter, On Fire Baby turned in another strong workout this morning. The two-time grade 2 stakes winner breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5, which was officially the second fastest of 42 workers at the distance. Perhaps more impressive was the gallop-out which carried her to six furlongs in 1:12 and change, according to her trainer. That’s a gallop-out workout time which would have won most races over the track in the afternoon this week. Today’s work was her third consecutive strong five furlong breeze since her sophomore debut.
Like Rachel, On Fire Baby announced herself with strong showings in the fall stakes for juvenile fillies at Churchill Downs. In fact, she did the 2009 Horse of the Year one better by taking both the Pocahontas and Golden Rod impressively. She may have been defeated in her only start so far in 2012, but the game third finish against the boys in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn, should do nothing but toughen her up when she gets in back against the girls. That return to the distaff set will come in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes next Saturday, and Red Dog sounds like he is licking his chops.
“Anything other than first-place and I’d probably be disappointed,” he said. “I think she’s that good.”
Hartlage has his eye on the Oaks, or maybe even the Derby, and the Honeybee fits into that plan perfectly.
“The break was to give her a little breather,” said Hartlage. “We wanted to get the race in her and then give her some time in-between to this one. It all leads up to May to either the Oaks or the Derby depending on where Anita (owner Anita Cauley) wants to go, and this race fits the schedule. The Honeybee will be there and then a next one after that (Fantasy Stakes) would be a last stop before the Oaks or wherever we decide to go.”
I don’t know about the Derby, but this is one filly that I could easily see taking the 2012 Kentucky Oaks.