While there are two high-profile Derby preps this weekend in the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, much of the action centers on the Kentucky Oaks with a whopping five points-yielding prep races.
The Kentucky Oaks always flies under the radar in comparison with its highly marketed companion race, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting. In fact, it’s often one of the more exciting and formful races of the year, and Oaks contenders have a great record of going on to “glittering careers,” including doing well competing against males later in the year.
Will any of this week’s Oaks contenders go on to have glittering careers? Let’s hope so!
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Sore Shoulder Knocks Kid Cruz Out of Wood
Blood-Horse: Conquest Titan Still Has Arkansas Derby Plans
Blood-Horse: Triple Crown Infographic: Wood Memorial S.
Blood-Horse: Triple Crown Infographic: Santa Anita Derby
Blood-Horse: Uncle Sigh Carries High Hopes, Purple Heart
Blood-Horse: Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen – March 31, 2014
Blood-Horse: One for the Roses: Ride On Curlin
Brisnet: Ride On Curlin, Bayern drill for Arkansas Derby New
Brisnet: Big Bazinga, Extrasexyhippzster put in final major moves for Blue Grass New
Brisnet: Toast of New York’s increasingly unlikely for KY Derby
Brisnet: Coastline works for Blue Grass
Brisnet: Conquest Titan looks to step up in Arkansas Derby
Brisnet: Tonalist knocked out of Wood by lung infection
Brisnet: Florida Derby top three doing well, headed for rematch in Kentucky
Brisnet: McLaughlin disappointed by Cairo Prince’s Florida Derby
Brisnet: Extrasexyhippzster readies for possible Blue Grass start
Brisnet: Untapable honored as Fair Grounds’ Horse of the Meet following FG Oaks triumph
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for April 2
DRF: Trainer Osborne mulls Kentucky Derby option for Toast of New York
Santa Anita Oaks
Santa Anita, Saturday April 5, post time: 5:00 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
Eight are entered in the Santa Anita Oaks, but the race for first comes down to three: Grade 1 Las Virgenes winner Fashion Plate, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner (by DQ) Ria Antonia, and impressive maiden winner Honey Ride.
Fashion Plate is the morning line favorite and no wonder, she’s the sole speed. Jockey Gary Stevens is almost certainly planning to reprise their Las Virgenes-winning trip, by going to the front from the start and staying there. But should the extra sixteenth of this race prove too much for the filly, a stalker will have a shot — a stalker like Honey Ride, who enters off a maiden win that was a significant improvement over her first two career starts. It could be that she’s a filly peaking at the right time, and in the right place — she’s by Candy Ride, a sire who not only enjoyed graded stakes success in Southern California, but whose offspring have done the same.
With the Santa Anita Oaks, Ria Antonia returns to the scene of her best stakes performance, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which she finished second but was named the winner when the stewards disqualified She’s a Tiger from first. This is Ria Antonia’s second start of the year, and she needs to improve on a tiring fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds on February 22. Her recent bullet work at Santa Anita — for new trainer Bob Baffert — suggests she’s sharp. That she’ll be racing with blinkers off again and that jockey Mike Smith will be aboard for the first time suggest she won’t be allowed to fall too far behind the pace.
Grade 3 Santa Ysabel runner-up Artemis may also be in the mix. She’s a consistent runner, but hardly flashy, and she’s made six starts, but she’s on her fifth jockey. If you’re going to play her in any way but under in an exotic bet, do so at odds that are 10-1 or better. Arethusa, third in the Las Virgenes, is another exotic bet possibility. Even her trainer isn’t looking for more. “The way the track is, the best-case scenario would be third,” Eoin Harty told the Daily Racing Form.
Kissin Lucky Lips, Bajan, and Smoove It complete the field.
2014 Santa Anita Oaks Replay
Fashion Plate holds Ria Antonia to take Santa Anita Oaks
Aqueduct, Saturday April 5, post time: 5:06 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
Four of the six runners in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct on Saturday boast only a maiden win to their credit. Four of them show off-track form. Three of them will earn enough points to make it on to the Kentucky Oaks points standings leaderboard. Two of them have a win over the track, and two of them look to have a real shot at winning the race.
But only one of them is a stakes winner, and only one of them has any points heading into the starting gate. Sweet Reason’s rÃ©sumÃ© far outshines any of her rivals’: winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway and second in the Grade 1 Frizette last year, she faltered in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, then returned to the races last month to win an optional claimer at Aqueduct by a half-length. That win should probably have been easier than it was, and the pace dynamics of the Gazelle might not be quite what this closer would prefer, but she’s two-for-two over a sloppy track and with a rainy Friday on tap in New York, her class and experience may be all she needs to get the 100 points on offer here to the winner; a second of even a third-place finish may be enough to get her to the Kentucky Oaks.
The narrow second choice on the morning line is Todd Pletcher’s My Miss Sophia, a runaway winner in her second start at Gulfstream last month. She’s been on the lead for nearly every step of her two races and though she steps up big-time here, she’s got a champion on her back in Castellano and another in the barn training her. She stretched out to a mile with no difficulty, and her sire won the Wood Memorial in 1996, though her dam side is long on sprinters.
Likely to challenge My Miss Sophia on the lead is Vero Amore, the only runner other than Sweet Reason with a win beyond a maiden-breaker. Placed twice in listed stakes this winter, both of them at Aqueduct, she’s been on or near the lead in her three best races; she’s sat further back more recently but was unable to win either time. Though the track at Aqueduct is likely to be fast by post time on Saturday despite Friday’s forecast, it’s worth noting that she ran well in the mud here in January, but that was at 6 furlongs, and she wasn’t up against a graded stakes winner then.
Another mudlark is Pletcher’s other entry, Got Lucky, most recently second by a pole to the division-leading Untapable in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds in February. She broke her maiden by 5 1/4 in the wet at Gulfstream, and she was second by a neck to stablemate Stopchargingmaria in the 1 1/8-miles Demoiselle here last fall. She likes the mud, she’s a closer, and she can get the distance.
Rounding out the field are Bird Maker, whose last two races don’t suggest that she can compete with this, and longshot Wraith, third to Sweet Reason last out.
2014 Gazelle Stakes Replay
Keeneland, Saturday April 5, post time: 5:22 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs), synthetic surface
On paper, Testa Rossi’s class and excellent form stand out in Saturday’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack at Keeneland, which offers 100 Kentucky Oaks points to the winner.
The Chad Brown-trained filly who served notice that she was something special as a 2-year-old in Europe has blossomed into one of the nation’s top 3-year-old fillies on turf. Her amazing turn of foot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf â€“ in which she closed from 10th in the stretch to lose by 2 Â½-lengths to Chriselliam â€“ was a rare and memorable sight. She was obviously strides ahead of her competition in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo and the Grade 3 Florida Oaks.
There’s one glaring question mark with this talented filly: How will she handle the synthetic surface? She’s been working on the Palm Meadows turf in preparation for the race. The surface switch looks to be the only possible angle that could draw bettors away from this favorite who otherwise towers over the field.
It’s also interesting to note that Testa Rossi, who broke from post 12 in her past two races, drew post 6 in this 13-horse field. Jockey Jose Lezcano will likely try to have her settle off the pace either mid-pack or even farther back to position for a late-closing run.
An intriguing contender who has experience over the Keeneland main track is Rosalind. Despite a wide post, she rallied for second behind My Conquestadory in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades on Oct. 4 in one of the best performances of her career. She will be making her second start off the layoff, is returning to a favored surface and should have adequate pace to track with her closing style.
An upset candidate with plenty of upside is the Todd Pletcher-trained Candy Kitty, who will be making her first start on synthetic. Her form has greatly improved since jockey Edgar Prado hopped aboard, and they will team up again here. She couldn’t hold on as the favorite in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes on Gulfstream turf, finishing second, but it’s a favorable angle that she’s cutting back from 1 1/8 miles. She’s a daughter of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, who ranks 19th on the all-time synthetic sires list.
Room Service, who beat Candy Kitty in the Herecomesthebride, will have jockey Shaun Bridgmohan aboard for the first time. Although she’s also making her first start on synthetic, she has the benefit of two works over the Keeneland surface. She appeared to like it, posting a bullet at 5 furlongs on March 27. She’s ultra-consistent, finishing in the money in her five career starts, so she’s a must-use for exotics and is a candidate for the win slot. She’s half-sister to Oscar Party, a stakes winner on turf.
Seeking Her Glory, the other entry from Pletcher, is very appealing in this spot. She has the fall meet’s leading rider aboard in Rosie Napravnik. She faded to third after setting the pace in the Herecomesthebride, but Napravnik could get a better trip off the pace from the 12 post here. The surface switch is very favorable for this filly. She’s a daughter of Giant’s Causeway, ranked No. 3 on the all-time synthetic sires list. In addition, she broke her maiden on turf at 1 1/8-miles, so this distance should be her game.
Macaroon, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has won two straight since she switched her running style to pacesetter. She’ll likely be forwardly placed here as well in her first synthetic try, but can she carry her speed the extra distance? She’s yet to win beyond 7.5 furlongs (just under a mile).
Although she lacks the experience of many of her rivals, it’s impossible to ignore Thank You Marylou, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned entrant, at Keeneland. The Ramseys have won 13 owners’ titles at Keeneland and their runners are always dangerous, particularly on the main track. Thank You Marylou stepped up her game with a win in the Any Limit Stakes on dirt at Gulfstream, but she’s facing tough challenges with the class hike, a stretch-out from seven furlongs and the switch to synthetic.
Trainer Bill Mott is also one to keep an eye on at Keeneland. Miss Besilu, a $2.6 million purchase, has yet to break out with that big stakes win. With the exception of a clunker in the Florida Oaks, she’s delivered solid efforts on turf and was a good second to Candy Kitty in the Ginger Brew. She had a spin over the track on April 2 and it looks like synthetic might be to her liking.
New York-bred Saturday Bliss is a wild card. She’s won two races at Aqueduct on the front end in stylish fashion. Although this is a major class test for the George Weaver trainee, she is one to consider for exotics. Her main disadvantage here likely isn’t her lack of experience, but the presence of several other pace factors who will pressure her for the early lead.
The field also includes: California invader On the Backstreets, who will have Robby Albarado aboard for the first time; Resistivity, a winner on turf and dirt who is likely to be part of the lively pace; Florida Oaks runner-up Istanford; and Ireland, who is cross-entered at Oaklawn in an allowance Friday.
News and Recaps
Rosalind, Room Service DH Ashland Winners
Ashland Winners Have Stories To Tell New
Rosalind, Room Service doing well following Ashland dead-heat New
Keeneland Barn Notes (news on Ashland runners) New
2014 Ashland Stakes Replay
Rosalind, Room Service dead-heat in Ashland
Aqueduct, Saturday April 5, post time: 5:40 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
For Samraat, the Wood Memorial represents the chance to solidify his standing as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. For his rival Uncle Sigh, it represents the opportunity to lock up a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. And for the other nine horses that will go the gate at Aqueduct on Saturday afternoon, it represents the likely last shot to break into the top 20 and earn a trip to Louisville next month.
With 100 points going to the winner and 40 points to the runner-up, the top two finishers of the Wood will guarantee themselves a shot at Churchill Downs. The third- and fourth-place finishers (20 and 10 points respectively) may well find themselves on the outside looking in, unless they’re adding to points earned in earlier races.
New York-bred Samraat and Uncle Sigh meet up for round 3 of their Aqueduct rivalry; beaten a length in the Withers and a neck in the Grade 3 Gotham by Samraat, Uncle Sigh, in 17th place with 24 points, will hope the third time’s the charm and try to turn the tables this time. Though both are speedy sorts, they’ve demonstrated the ability to sit back early, with Samraat in particular rating kindly last out in the Gotham. They’ve knocked heads on the lead and dueled in the stretch in their previous meetings; with the amount of speed signed on here, they may well want to leave it to the others to duke it out before the real running begins.
Big-time buzz horse Social Inclusion ships in from Florida to make his third lifetime start. Winner of his first two starts by open lengths, he’s never been headed, though he’s also never faced stakes company. If this late developer earns enough points to get to the Kentucky Derbyâ€”and as he’s starting at zero, he’s probably going to need to finish in the top twoâ€”expect to hear a lot about Apollo, the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at 2â€¦and that was in 1882. On the strength of his two runaway victories, he was installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite.
West Coast shipper Kristo sits just outside the top 20 at #22 with 14 points. In his lone victory, he set the pace and drew off to win by 6 3/4 lengths; though inclined to be close to the lead in four of his five starts, an unruly trip last out in the Grade 2 San Felipe left him covering an awful lot of ground far behind his usual customary spot. He’s another that may zip to the front or sit just off the leaders.
Todd Pletcher’s Harpoon sits at zero in the points standings; his stablemate Constitution went from zero to 100 in the Grade 1 Florida Derby last week, and this guy will hope to do the same on Saturday. He’s got only a maiden win to his credit, but his running lines show a propensity to take the overland route into the stretch. He was a valiant second by a nose to Vinceremos in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, and he gets Pletcher’s top jockey John Velazquez for the first time since his debut at Saratoga, which may help him get back to the form that he showed breaking his maiden at Gulfstream in December.
Kid Cruz SCRATCHED offers an intriguing off-the-pace option, coming to the race off an eye-popping win in the Private Terms at Laurel last month. Off the screen for much of the race, he closed from Washington D.C. into a slow pace, cruising to a four-length victory. He may simply be out-classed by these, but he’s one of few here who likes to come from the back of the pack.
Noble Moon makes his first start since winning the Grade 2 Jerome in December after losing time due to an injury earlier this winter. He’s put in two 1-mile breezes for trainer Leah Gyarmati, who’s no doubt got him fit enough, but he’s another speedster who’s going to have competition up front, and this may be a big ask for a horse that hasn’t run in three months.
Other contenders are Jimmy Jerkens’ Wicked Strong, third in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct last November; Los Borrachos, making his second start for Bill Mott after beginning his career in California with Richard Mandella; the undefeated Schivarelli, who won an optional claimer here by 12 in February; and Effinex, who’ll be the only starter to race without Lasix.
News and Recaps
Wicked Strong Charges to Wood Memorial Score
Wicked Strong rallies to win going away in TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial
The Gallop Out â€“ Wood Memorial
Social Inclusion focuses on Preakness New
Violette: Wood was great ‘learning experience’ for Samraat New
Wicked Strong to stay at Belmont until Derby Week New
Aqueduct Barn Notes (updated on Wood starters) New
2014 Wood Memorial Replay
Oaklawn Park, Saturday April 5, post time: 6:09 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
Five of the eight runners here return from the March 8 Grade 3 Honeybee, including Sugar Shock, who crossed the finish line first, and Euphrosyne, who was elevated to the win after Sugar Shock was disqualified and placed second. Third-place finisher Please Explain was also close up, running less than a length behind the first two. Given that all three have posted the highest speed figures at the 1 1/16 miles distance, it isn’t surprising that all three appear to be prime candidates to win. Sugar Shock followed up her disqualification with an impressive bullet (46.40, best of 49 horses) 4-furlong workout that logically suggests the Honeybee didn’t take too much out of her. She breaks from the rail post position 1 with regular jockey Channing Hill aboard. Racing just off the pace, Euphrosyne stalked the front-runners last time, making her move in the stretchâ€”which was somewhat of change in tactics for the confirmed front-runner. On the other hand, Please Explain is a confirmed late runnerâ€”at one point in the Honeybee she was 13 lengths back, even after breaking from the rail post. Since that race, she too has put in two sharp 4-furlong workoutsâ€”as long as she doesn’t run into the traffic problems she did late in the Honeybee (with Sugar Shock and Euphrosyne), she could blow by them late for the victory.
The others returning from the Honeybeeâ€”Kiss Moon and Courageous Julie, who ran fourth and fifth respectivelyâ€”look competitive as well. Both were still moving well late in the Honeybee, and both of their pedigrees indicate they possess the stamina to get this distance and much more. Trainer David Vance will add blinkers to Kiss Moon, most likely to engage her interest earlier. Both of her 5-furlong workouts coming into this event were impressive bullet efforts, indicating she could be sitting on a big race. No equipment change has been announced, but trainer D. Wayne Lukas is making a jockey change on Courageous Julieâ€”veteran Jon Court will take the reins on this filly whose maiden victory over this track was accomplished in last-to-first fashion.
Don’t be surprised if Gulfstream shipper Stopchargingmaria presents an early speed challenge to Sugar Shock. Last year’s 1 1/8 miles Grade 2 Demoiselle winner was a disappointing (not to mention distant) fifth in her 2013 debut, the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Davona Dale. Twice Grade 1-placed as a juvenile, it’s possible her form won’t return in her sophomore campaign, but trainer Todd Pletcher is willing to give her one more try by shipping her to Oaklawn off a 42-day break.
The two new shooters without any prior stakes experience are Haveyougoneaway and Mufajaah. New York-bred Haveyougoneaway enters off a sharp 1-mile maiden win here on March 15 over a large 12-horse field. Her sire Congrats was a game runner-up behind Rock Hard Ten in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, and her damsire Wiseman’s Ferry won the 9-furlong Grade 3 West Virginia Derby, so it appears stretching out to 1 1/16 miles is well within her grasp. Successfully making the jump in class, however, is a different issue. A $375,000 Keeneland yearling purchase by Shadwell Stable, Mufajaah is the most expensive horse in the field and one that has already demonstrated by her speed that she should be able to make the class jump from allowance winner to stakes competitor. Her sire Tapit is red-hot, with Kentucky Derby contenders Tapiture, Ring Weekend and Constitution (not to mention Kentucky Oaks favorite Untapable) among his progeny. Mufajaah‘s dam is 6 1/2-furlongs, Grade 2 Vagrancy winner Carolyn’s Cat, while her second dam People’s Princess (a full sister to 9-furlong, Grade 1 Haskell runner-up Meadow Flight) won the 9-furlong Grade 3 Rare Treat. The only entrant not running on Lasix, Mufajaah is a worthy longshot to provide an upset.
Santa Anita Derby
Santa Anita, Saturday April 5, post time: 6:30 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
Candy Boy will try to do what Cairo Prince could not in last Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby: return from a two-month layoff following an exciting win and earn enough points to guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate. That’s a tough assignment, even when the competition isn’t Grade 2 Santa Felipe winner California Chrome and Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity.
California Chrome is the likely favorite coming off the San Felipe, which he won gate-to-wire by 7 1/4 lengths. That was his third straight win, and the Beyer speed figure of 108 that he was given for it is the kind of gaudy number that draws a lot of money to the win pool. He’s also training well, another plus. But consider that this race isn’t his goal, and look past his career best speed figure, and the field starts to look more competitive. Candy Boy is the apparent alternate, and it doesn’t hurt that Chitu, second to him in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, returned to win the Grade 3 Sunland Derby. If there’s a knock on him (besides the long layoff), it’s that his five works between the two races have been dull.
Trainer Bob Baffert has a chance at a seventh win in the Santa Anita Derby with Hoppertunity. The colt is speedy and game, but he’s also coming off a hard-fought win over an off-track in the Rebel Stakes. That’s the kind of experience that can make a young horse regress.
Friendswith K Mill, Big Tire, and Dublin Up are all likely longshots, as is Rprettyboyfloyd. Still a maiden, he gets blinkers on for the first time after finishing second or third in his five career starts. Maybe it’ll be the equipment change he needs to finally win one. Schoolofhardrocks, fourth in San Felipe, rounds out the field.
2014 Santa Anita Derby Replay
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