With yesterday’s disappointing news that the most talented three-year-old filly in the nation, Princess Arabella, has been prematurely retired due to a soft tissue injury, in addition to the season-long absence of the undefeated juvenile filly champion, My Miss Aurelia, it would appear that this year’s Kentucky Oaks is ripe for the taking. In Grace Hall and On Fire Baby, we certainly have two deserving fillies to vie for favoritism, but as is true with the male counterpart of the Oaks, the favorites are anything but sure things. Chief among the horses I see as potential upsetters in the Oaks is the Bret Calhoun trained miss, Summer Applause.
Bred in Kentucky by Greenwood Lodge Farm Inc., Summer Applause has won three times with two seconds in her five races since an off-the-board result in her career debut last October at Woodbine. Her consistent resume is comprised mostly of her four starts at her winter home in New Orleans, where she’s had the experience of running four good two-turn races over the long stretch found at Fair Grounds. After winning an optional claimer for fun on New Year’s Eve, the bay daughter of Harlan’s Holiday has been mixing it up with the front-runner, Believe You Can, in three consecutive stakes races. Finishing second as the Silverbulletday Stakes favorite, she easily gained revenge on her rival with a strong outside rally to win the Rachel Alexandra. Most recently, she was narrowly defeated by Believe You Can in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 31. In the last one, the wire came just in time for the winner, as Summer Applause was gaining fast, narrowly missing out on the win.
Signaling that she is doing very well just two weeks from the Kentucky Oaks, Summer Applause breezed a bullet five furlongs this morning over the Churchill Downs main track in :59.60. In her second solid work since arriving in Louisville, she recorded fractions of :12.20, :23.60, :35.40 and :47.60 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80 and seven furlongs in 1:27.20, under jockey Miguel Mena.
“She couldn’t have worked any better,” assistant trainer Dennis “Peaches” Geier said. “She was very relaxed and worked really well.”
Mena will not be on the filly Oaks day though, and neither will the rider who rode her in each of her four starts in New Orleans, for that matter. Today her connections announced that former Kentucky Oaks winning rider, Garrett Gomez will replace Robby Albarado aboard the Campbell Gillian R Group Management owned filly. The two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey is making his way back to full speed after fracturing his left heel when he was thrown from his mount in the paddock at Santa Anita on January 8. Gomez, who won the Oaks aboard champion Rags to Riches in 2007 would seem to be a perfect fit for the stretch running filly.
In fact the addition of Gomez, combined with the knowledge that Summer Applause will get nine furlongs for the first time in the Oaks, and that she should be a significant benefactor from what looks like will be a very contested early pace, gives me enough reason to make her my top pick in the 2012 Kentucky Oaks.