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Kentucky Oaks Runner

The Novel Nine: Grace Back on Top

There are less than three weeks left until the running of the 138th Kentucky Oaks and the 2012 crop of 3-year-old fillies has continued to impress during their preparations. Since the last Novel Nine there has been some major shifting on the list but most of the names are familiar. Due to the amount of strong performances turned in thus far I found it impossible to list just nine fillies, so the Novel Nine becomes a “false” title this week and includes three more fillies as well as several honorable mentions at the bottom of the list. Taking a look at the Kentucky Oaks contenders, one thing has stood out very clear this year; pace is going to be a key factor. Of the twelve fillies listed, eight either run on the lead or rate as close to the pace as possible. Of the remaining four, all except for three prefer to run just behind the pace. The pace could wind up being extremely brisk this year and there are several very class fillies more than able to run a fiery 1 1/16 mile race that will all be gunning for the lead.
1. Grace Hall – She earned this spot with her overpowering victory in the Gulfstream Oaks over a field that included Yara and the previously undefeated Zo Impressive. After beginning the year with a gut-wrenching second to Yara by a neck in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr.2), Grace Hall exploded in the Gulfstream Oaks with a powerful 6 ½ length triumph. She has exceptional tactical speed and usually sits just off the pacesetters before launching her bid, which will be a perfectly employed style at Churchill Downs in the Oaks. Her first work after winning the Gulfstream Oaks was an easy half mile breeze in :48.95 for trainer Tony Dutrow but she by no means needs to be pumping out fast works right now. Maintaining her top form and keeping her relaxed are the biggest goals for trainer Dutrow in the 2 ½ weeks remaining until the Kentucky Oaks.
2. Princess Arabella – This lightly raced Bob Baffert trained filly wins with such incredible ease that it’s not hard to imagine her capturing the Kentucky Oaks in just her 4th lifetime start. She began her career at Santa Anita Park on December 31st with a 3 ½ length maiden win, before taking an allowance race by the same margin in early February. Both efforts required little more than a hand ride from jockey Martin Garcia. In her third and most recent start, the Any Given Saturday filly throttled the Sunland Park Oaks field, leading all the way to win by 8 lengths in another hand ride and showing exceptional acceleration when Garcia asked her at the head of the stretch, something absolutely essential to any filly wanting to win the Kentucky Oaks on the front end. There have been no works recorded since her March 25th Sunland Park Oaks win but you can rest assured Baffert will have her as prepared as she can be to run her best race.
3. On Fire Baby – With her connections making the decision to skip the April 11th Fantasy Stakes, that was subsequently won by Mamma Kimbo, it was announced On Fire Baby will train up to the Kentucky Oaks. This filly has a huge affinity for Churchill Downs having already won the Pocahontas (gr.2) and Golden Rod Stakes (gr.2) over the famed dirt oval. She is no slouch, having defeated good fillies such as Believe You Can, Karlovy Vary, Glinda the Good and Amie’s Dini. Her latest win in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes on March 10th showed how tough and talented she really is. After finally reeling in the very determined Amie’s Dini, On Fire Baby was hand-ridden to the wire for a 2 length win. There is no doubt she can hold her own against the best of this crop.
4. Broadway’s Alibi – The Vindication filly has now won four straight races and keeps looking better and better. She faced a strong field that included Millionreasonswhy in the Grade 3 Comely Stakes and turned the race into another runaway victory. After breaking like a shot from the gate, she led the field into the far turn of the 1 mile test where the lead quickly shrunk to a head. For a moment it appeared that Singlet and Welcome Guest would run right by the Todd Pletcher trained filly, but with a shake of the reins and a snap of the whip from jockey Javier Castellano, she bust forward to a 3 ½ length lead, maintaining her advantage all the way to the finish line. Her combined margins of victory from her 4 race winning streak equals more than 32 lengths. It’s still undecided whether to run her in the Kentucky Oaks, or point for the nation’s premier 1 turn races according to Pletcher, but so far this filly has done no wrong and appears to be winning with ease against very good competition.
5. Mamma Kimbo – Chalk up another talented filly for trainer Bob Baffert in the undefeated Mamma Kimbo. On February 18th Mamma Kimbo broke her maiden by more than 5 lengths at Santa Anita. Just under two months later the Discreet Cat filly was busy winning the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes in just her second lifetime start. In both starts she spurted from the gate as nimble as a deer and ran her foes into the ground. She runs like much more seasoned, mature filly and showed the ability to sustain her drive on the front end in the 1 1/16 mile Fantasy Stakes when holding off a stubborn Amie’s Dini to win by 1 ¼ lengths. Considering that she just won the Fantasy Stakes on April 11th we can be pretty sure that she’ll enter the Kentucky Oaks very fit and should be able to get in two more works before the big race. If she wins the Oaks this year that will make back-to-back Kentucky Oaks wins for both Bob Baffert and owners Peachtree Stable.
6.  Millionreasonswhy – This daughter of Grand Slam gave champion My Miss Aurelia the race of her life last year and opened up her highly anticipated 3-year-old campaign with an easy win in the 7 furlong Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park. She finished a disappointing 3rd in her second start, finishing 5 lengths behind Broadway’s Alibi in the Grade 3 Comely Stakes on April 7th. She was in an excellent spot coming off the backstretch into the far turn and cut the corner beautifully but was unable to make any headway against the two leaders. She finished more than 3 lengths ahead of Singlet in 4th but showed none of the closing spark that has become her trademark. Chalk it up to fitness and move on I say. She had a break of almost seven months between the end of her juvenile campaign and the beginning of her 3-year-old one, and then that came in a 7 furlong race against weak competition that presented little challenge to her. The Comely effort will do her much more good than the Wide Country ever did and if she comes up the Kentucky Oaks off a couple of strong works, I wouldn’t underestimate her chances.
7. Eden’s Moon – This Bob Baffert trained filly showed a huge talent in her second and third starts when she took down an allowance field by 11 ½ lengths before defeating the previously undefeated Reneesgotzip in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes, winning by more than 3 lengths. She wasn’t able to display that same explosive kick in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) on March 31st when finishing third to Willa B Awesome and Reneesgotzip. The Awesome Gambler filly stalked Reneesgotzip in second throughout much of the 1 1/16 mile trip before making her move on the far turn and being outrun by both Reneesgotzip and Willa B Awesome. She appeared to be dropping back as they entered the stretch but gradually edged forward as the wire approached, to finish just 1 ½ lengths behind Reneesgotzip in second. Perhaps her uncharacteristically dull run was her bounce from two huge back-to-back efforts. In any case it would be a huge mistake to cross her off as a leading Kentucky Oaks contender. She has posted two nice works since the Santa Anita Oaks, first a 1:01.80 five furlong move and most recently a 1:12.80 six furlong breeze.
8.  Willa B Awesome – This filly began the year by winning the Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr.3) and then turned in a solid 4th place finish behind Eden’s Moon and Reneesgotzip in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr.1) about a month later. Returning to face those same two fillies once again, Willa B Awesome posted a 13-1 upset, nipping Reneesgotzip on the wire to win by a nose with Eden’s Moon a close third. That brought her 2012 record to two wins in three tries, all in graded stakes. She won just two of her juvenile starts last year but has consistently placed in the top three and seems to have made a vast improvement this season. On April 15th she turned in an easy maintenance 5 furlong breeze, getting the distance in 1:02.20.
9. Summer Applause – She was one of the big fillies at Fair Grounds this spring after winning an allowance race by 7 lengths at the end of December and finishing second by 1 ½ lengths to Believe You Can in the Silverbulletday Stakes on January 21st. It was her strong rally in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) that marked her as a legitimate Kentucky Oaks contender, as the Harlan’s Holiday filly closed willingly when asked coming off the turn in the Rachel Alexandra, and reeled in front-running Avie’s Sense for a comfortable 1 length win. As good as that win was I don’t think it was nearly as good as her losing effort in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2) five weeks later. She tracked the pace set by Believe You Can, got outkicked by that one coming into the stretch and made up a tremendous amount of ground with a furious late rally to just miss winning by a nose. That effort will have her very sharp for the Kentucky Oaks and with all the speed fillies running this year, her running style could set her up nicely for a big effort.
10. Believe You Can – Believe You Can won three straight races last year as a juvenile, culminating with A triumph in the Tempted Stakes (gr.3) at Belmont Park and followed up with a dull 6th place finish in the Pocahontas Stakes (gr.2) to finish out the year. She began 2012 with a bang when she captured the Silverbulletday Stakes over Summer Applause by 1 ½ lengths. In her next start she finished a weakening and distant 4th to Summer Applause in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) and then came back to turn the tables on Summer Applause in her most recent start in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2). Taking the lead from the outset, Believe You Can led every step of the way and found another gear at the head of the stretch, drawing four lengths clear of Summer Applause before that one rallied strongly to take second by a head. She has proven versatile enough to win on the lead or rating which will serve her well in a full Kentucky Oaks field where front-runners will have to hold on for a full 1 1/8 miles.
11. Reneesgotzip – This filly showed us just how much class she has with her front-running tactics in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) that almost stole the show. After breaking like a shot the Peter Miller trained filly zipped through the opening quarter in :23.41 and the half in:46.81 before running the ¾ in 1:09.95 and repelling the bid of Eden’s Moon. She had a clear advantage coming into the homestretch and ran her heart out down to the wire to lose by an excruciating nose to Willa B Awesome. I think this race showed a dimension of Reneesgotzip that many people didn’t believe she had. She may not be best suited for the 1 1/8 mile distance of the Kentucky Oaks with her blazing front-running tactics, but there is no denying she is one tough filly to beat when she’s at the top of her game. If she is able to relax more in the early stages of the Oaks and save her drive for the final furlong then she has just as good a shot at winning as almost any other.
12. Karlovy Vary – This daughter of recently pensioned stallion, Dynaformer, has won her last two starts over Keenland’s synthetic surface but finished 7th in her only attempt on dirt. She posted a 15-1 upset in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes in her most recent start in wire-to-wire fashion. Karlovy Vary was allowed to crawl on the front end in the Ashland, running the opening half in :48.97 and getting the mile in 1:38.28. The only filly of high caliber that she defeated in the Ashland was Breeders’ Cup winner Stephanie’s Kitten, who clearly was not herself and ran a subpar race. Overall it was a very average field she defeated and the competition in the Kentucky Oaks will be immensely more experienced, but the fact that she has now won two consecutive races is something that cannot be ignored. Clearly she is a good filly, but I think she’s a step below the rest on this list.
The twelve fillies listed are all very capable and talented but four more deserve honorable mention for their recent efforts, beginning with Zo Impessive.
Zo Impressive turned in a very solid second place finish behind Grace Hall in the Gulfstream Park Oaks after winning the first two starts of her career impressively. In her start before the Oaks the daughter of Hard Spun won an allowance race by 4 ½ lengths over In Lingerie, who came back in late March to win the Bourbonette Oaks (gr.3). Both fillies have made three lifetime starts with two wins and one second place finish. They have a lot of potential.
Yara didn’t do much of anything in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, finishing a distant fifth. I did note in the last Novel Nine that this filly seems to run to a pattern. She runs bad and comes back with a win, runs back and comes back with a win, runs bad and comes back with a win. Now once again she has run badly. I’m not personally very excited about her but if she follows the same trend she has her whole career she should be running a much nicer race in the Kentucky Oaks.
Amie’s Dini has had the misfortune of running into two very strong performances in her last two starts. First she finished a gritty second to On Fire Baby in the Honeybee, and then she ran a very determined second to Mamma Kimbo in the Fantasy Stakes. She never lets her opponents open up a big advantage and always runs her heart out so look for her to be running strong on Oaks day and I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a piece of the action.


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Older Comments about The Novel Nine: Grace Back on Top...

@Andy - Baffert is in a dream spot right now with Princess Arabella, Mamma Kimbo and Eden's Moon, and that's just the fillies! I agree, Grace Hall looked amazing and won with very little effort.
What a great group of fillies. Grace Hall was SO impressive in her last race, but then there is Baffert. Could he take down the Oaks/Derby Double?
Wow, so much love for Summer Applause so far! :)
This should be another very competative race, just like the KY Derby. I think Summer Applause has a very good chance to win the Oaks & I do believe we will see another jockey aboard in the Oaks.
@Mary - I agree Mary, and I think she's one of the fillies that will benefit from all the speed in the race this year. She's never run a bad race yet and the Fair Grounds Oaks effort was exceptional.
@BrianZ - So do I, it's a tie between her and Grace Hall for me right now. I like Summer Applause as well and I think she'll appreciate the extra furlong in the Oaks, but I don't think the competition she's been facing is extremely high calibur with the exception of Believe You Can.
Summer Applause is still my top Oaks pick. The recent loss is easily forgivable; she might not even know she lost; yes I said that. I like her running style; comes from behind, but not a dead closer and versatile, can be closer up, and even won once wire to wire on the lead. She's had all very good races after her unimpressive maiden race at Woodbine, with imo, her 4th. and 6th. races two of the best, even though she did not win those. Already working out very well at Churchill.
I like the Princess best right now, but watch out for Summer Applause. She looked good in the late stages of the Fair Grounds Oaks.

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 Meet Brian Appleton 

Thoroughbred Horse Racing is my passion.  It started when at the age of 9 I found a book called Come On Seabiscuit by Ralf Moody on my Mother’s shelf.  Reading that book was one of the most exciting things I ever did as a kid. I read that book so many times that I had entire chapters committed to memory and the dust jacket worn and ripped beyond recognition from so much use. From that point on I was hopelessly addicted, reading every book on horse racing I could get my hands on, especially racehorse biographies. In 2009 I began my own blog called Rail Runner on wordpress and have continued to blog there to this day.

Curlin is probably my favorite racehorse of all time. Being able to attend six of his races will always be one of the highlights of my life. Whenever I need to re-find some inspiration in my life all I need to do is watch one of his incredible victories and relive the memories. Rachel Alexandra ranks right up there too. As any horse racing fan will tell you it’s almost impossible to choose just one favorite and I am no exception. Phar Lap and Citation are another two of my all time favorites and the list could go on and on.

I was homeschooled my entire life by my parents and graduated High School in 2006 at the age of 17.  Currently I am completing my Marketing degree with the hopes of entering the Thoroughbred Horse Racing field as a writer/journalist , or in the marketing/advertising/promotions side of the industry.

It is my dream to someday become a thoroughbred racehorse owner and win major races across the United States. Who wouldn't want that, right?  For about 1 ½ years I was part owner in a racehorse, Lord Greystoke raced, and owned by Hibiscus Stables. I was able to attend one of his races at Belmont Park on Kentucky Derby day, May 2, 2009 and it was an incredible experience. While Lord Greystoke finished 7th in the race, being able to stand in an owner’s box not 30 feet away from Penny Chenery’s owner’s box was one of the most amazing feelings in the world.

Later in the year Lord Greystoke was finally able to break through with a 4 ½ length win which made me feel like one of the world’s most accomplished thoroughbred owners and further fueled my appetite. I think it would be rally neat to win the Appleton Stakes (Gr.3) at Gulfstream Park, even though I'm generally a bigger fan of dirt racing I can't help but think it would be neat for me to win a race with the same name as my last name.

That’s me in a nutshell, just a very passionate, driven young guy that wants to be a part of this amazing sport and share the adventure with other fans.

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