Race of the Week 2017

Napravnik Works Kentucky Oaks Contender Seaneen Girl

BEHOLDER (No. 1) – Just prior to 7 o’clock on a cloudy but mild Monday morning at Churchill Downs, trainer Richard Mandella brought his champion filly Beholder through the six-furlong gap on the backstretch under jockey-turned-exercise rider David Nuesch. The bay filly had a special pair of black earmuffs atop her bay head.
“They mute sound for her,” the trainer said. “She hears well – too well. She’s a bit high-strung and she’s an awful good-feeling filly, so we need to tamp her down some.  When we take her to the track in the mornings, or over to the paddock to race in the afternoon, we use them. For racing itself, she’s fine with that part and they aren’t necessary. She handles herself just fine with that.”
Once on the oval, Beholder went down into the one-mile chute for several go-rounds while kicking and bucking some just like a “good-feeling” horse might. Mandella just smiled when he saw it.
Then the daughter of Henny Hughes galloped a mile and a quarter under stout restraint, reaching out all the way.
Mandella, who also brought the stakes mare Rumor for Saturday’s Humana Distaff aboard his flight from California, said Beholder would visit Churchill’s paddock “at least twice” prior to her run in Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks.  
CLOSE HATCHES (No. 5)/FLASHY GRAY (No. 6) – Juddmonte Farms LLC’s undefeated Close Hatches was back on the track during the Oaks and Derby session for some easy exercise under exercise rider Joanna Trout, one day after an eye-catching half-mile breeze in :47.40, tied for the morning’s third fastest of 47 at that distance.

“She just jogged one mile today and then walked through the paddock,” trainer Bill Mott said.

Close Hatches has won her past two races – Aqueduct’s Gazelle (GII) and, before that, a Gulfstream Park allowance – gate to wire. In her recent works she has demonstrated brilliant speed and an aggressiveness that suggests she would be at her best running free on the lead. With so much early speed in the Oaks, though, Mott said Joel Rosario could rate her behind the pace if it looks too hot up front.

“I think she could rate off it,” Mott said. “If she does I don’t think she’ll be way out of it but I think she can probably do that. The jock feels like she’s been fairly tractable.”
The First Defence filly came from well of the pace in her January debut, closing from ninth before drawing off to win by seven lengths, but Mott said she was a different horse that early in her development.

“She hadn’t been showing that much speed from the gate,” he said. “Her first jump from that gate hadn’t been that quick so we didn’t expect her to be close the first time she ran. She hadn’t been showing it in the mornings.”

At the same time Close Hatches came to the track, West Point Thoroughbreds and Tom Keithley’s Flashy Gray also made an appearance, galloping 1 ¼ miles under Penny Gardiner and visiting the paddock for a walk around the ring.

Flashy Gray finished second in her two most recent starts – the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) and Oaklawn Park’s Honeybee (GIII). In the March 30 Fair Grounds Oaks, jockey Junior Alvarado lost his whip approaching the eighth pole, although the winner, Unlimited Budget, had already moved to the lead and the fumble did not appear to impact the result.

DREAMING OF JULIA (No. 4)/PRINCESS OF SYLMAR (No. 7)/SILSITA (No. 9)/UNLIMITED BUDGET (No. 3)/ -- The quartet of runners who take their feed on trainer Todd Pletcher’s shedrow had – for the most part – a quiet morning. Three of the 3-year-old fillies -- Dreaming of Julia, Silsita and Unlimited Budget -- basically got the day off with mere walks around the barn on their schedules. The fourth – Princess of Sylmar – went trackside for a gallop around the Churchill oval during the post-renovation break designated solely for Oaks or Derby horses. She had exercise rider Obed Perez attached for her leg-stretching.
“We’re all good,” Pletcher said.
Among them, the Pletcher foursome has won of 14 of 20 starts for purses of $1,697,645.        
MIDNIGHT LUCKY (No. 8) – Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman’s Midnight Lucky walked the shedrow Monday, the morning after she after she breezed five furlongs in :59.60.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said the gray filly came out of her work in good shape.
“Midnight Lucky is definitely in the Oaks,” Baffert said.  “It’s a tough field. It’s the most competitive Oaks that I’ve ever been in. There are some really fast fillies.”
Baffert smiled when someone told him that rain was in the forecast for later in the week.
“They say always bet a gray horse in the mud,” he said.
PURE FUN (No. 11) – Magdalena Racing’s Pure Fun galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Jose Cano during the Oaks and Derby session.

“It was routine,” assistant trainer Phil Bauer said. “Typically, as the gallop progresses, we like to pick it up each eighth of a mile and finish strong. That’s kind of our protocol, daily, and it seemed like she did that, switched leads on cue.”

Pure Fun enters the Oaks off only two starts in 2013, both on Polytrack – a third in the March 23 Bourbonette Oaks (GIII) at Turfway Park and a seventh in the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) at Keeneland against males on April 20, less than two weeks out from the Kentucky Oaks.
“I don’t think there’s any plans for her to work at this point,” Bauer said. “If she’s screaming at us in a couple days maybe we’ll give her something light but for right now we’re just going to gallop her into the race.”
ROSE TO GOLD (No. 2) – Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centrofanti’s Rose to Gold galloped 1 ½ miles after the renovation break with Denis Roberson aboard for trainer Sal Santoro. Santoro is scheduled to fly into Lexington this afternoon and will be at the barn tomorrow morning.
A winner of five of seven career starts that include Grade III victories in the Delta Princess, Honeybee and Fantasy, Rose to Gold is the second Oaks filly that Roberson has been connected with.
“I was getting on Roza Robata for Dick Mattingly at Oaklawn Park,” Roberson said of the filly who finished ninth behind Keeper Hill in the 1998 Oaks. “She had a nasty disposition around the barn, but once she got on the track, she was all business.
“This filly is as kind as she can be. This morning was the most work I have had to do with her. She usually settles right in, but this morning there was a horse that was working broke off in front of her and I eased back a bit and then another set broke off behind me but then she settled right in.”
Roberson began galloping Rose to Gold in mid-March and he likes what he has seen from the filly in Louisville.
“She is really thriving here and progressing nicely,” Roberson said. “Calvin (Borel) thinks she is doing very well here, and I concur.”
Borel, who won the Oaks in 2009 with Rachel Alexandra, has ridden Rose to Gold in her past twos starts, the victories in the Honeybee and Fantasy.
SEANEEN GIRL (No. 10) – Getting aboard Naveed Chowhan’s Seaneen Girl for the first time, jockey Rosie Napravnik worked her a half-mile Monday morning for trainer Bernie Flint.

The filly was timed in 48.80 seconds, the 10th fastest workout Monday at the distance. Her splits were :12.20 and 24.20, and she galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.00.

Napravnik, who won the Oaks last year on Believe You Can, picked up the mount on Seaneen Girl this week.

“I wasn’t sure for a while that I would even have a mount, and I kind of feel like this is my race since last year, so I didn’t want to miss out on it,’’ Napravnik said. “This filly has not done a lot wrong, and my first time on her, I was very impressed with the way she moves, and she worked very well. …

“She’s real responsive, she rated well, and I really didn’t ask for anything. She worked very easily.’’

Flint said: “I love what I saw. I could have told you to the second what she would do.  … It worked out just like I wanted it.’’


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