Weekend Takeaways: Bellafina claims Kentucky Oaks favoritism

April 08, 2019 10:46am
The boys made plenty of ripples on the road to Churchills Downs over the weekend, but a filly made arguably the biggest splash.

Bellafina thrived around two turns despite a wide trip in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks (G1), winning by an easy 5 1/4 lengths in a field that included a well-regarded pair of Bob Baffert trainees.

Paired with a second consecutive defeat for champion Jaywalk later in Keeneland's Ashland (G1), the performance should make Bellafina a favorite on the first Friday in May in the Kentucky Oaks.

Kaleem Shah's filly shot to the top of the Oaks leaderboard and joined Jaywalk, who defeated her last time at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile fillies, as the only million-dollar earners on the trail.

“It worked out perfectly," trainer Simon Callaghan said Saturday. "She relaxed great, did exactly what Flavien wanted, and she was there when he wanted her, so it worked out as we hoped."

Winning six of her seven lifetime graded stakes races -- including the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) and the Santa Ynez (G2) to start her 3-year-old campaign -- this daughter of Quality Road will next seek some redemption under the Twin Spires.

Along with Jaywalk, a familiar face in the Oaks starting gate will be Restless Rider, who should also receive significant support as the Ashland runner-up in her 3-year-old debut.

Big finish in Big ‘Cap

It was a stretch duel well worth the wait.

All that separated Gift Box from McKinzie was the tip of a nostril, but that’s what it took for the John Sadler trainee to take a thrilling Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on Saturday.

The 1 1/4-mile race, originally scheduled for March 9 but postponed when Santa Anita closed to examine its racing surface last month, finished in 2:03.02 -- a pedestrian time, but in line with how the track's playing with safety paramount. 

Gift Box out-dueled McKinzie on inside after the two hooked up neck-and-neck off the turn, building the foundation of a rivalry that should continue later this year in California's other classic distance races for older horses.

“This is very special," said John Sadler, who negotiated private purchase of Gift Box and has saddled him for two wins in as many starts. "I grew up with this race, to win it two years in a row is incredible."

“...This was the plan when we bought this horse and it happened. We couldn’t be happier.” 

Sadler, of course, trained the 2018 winner Accelerate, who went on to win a championship. Could that sort of accolade be in Gift Box's future?

The 6-year-old, formerly based on the East Coast with Chad Brown, added ot his Dec. 26 score in the San Antonio Stakes (G2). The Bob Baffert trainee, McKinzie, who romped in the Malibu Stakes (G1) that same day, now shows consecutive close defeats to begin his career as an older horse.

Record-breaking run

It was an under-the-radar moment overshadowed by the 3-year-olds, but it's worth recognizing 6-year-old Inspector Lynley, who pieced together one of the most impressive runs over the weekend to win Aqueduct's Danger's Hour in record time, eclipsing the mark set last year by Hawkish on the Aqueduct turf for a 1:34.13 mile.

The Shug McGaughey trainee rallied off a ridiculous pace set by Black Tide, who carried a more than 10-length lead through fractions of 23.04 and 46.34, then pushed into another gear down the stretch, keeping Multiplier in his wake.

"I didn't want to go too fast or too slow," said jockey Jose Lezcano. "I wanted to be in the right position. He's a very nice horse."

The journeyman son of Lemon Drop Kid, who has now run on 10 race tracks in 24 career starts, looks like one to watch moving forward. This season, he already has two victories, with the other a win in February's Tampa Bay Stakes (G3).


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