KENTUCKY OAKS NOTES
ABEL TASMAN—China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms’ Abel Tasman, winner of the Starlet (Grade I) at 2 and runner-up in last month’s Santa Anita Oaks (GI), visited the Churchill Downs main track for the first time after arriving Saturday from trainer Bob Baffert’s base at Santa Anita Park. The Quality Road filly jogged one mile under Dana Barnes, according to the exercise rider’s husband, and Baffert’s longtime assistant, Jimmy Barnes.
Abel Tasman could have exercised during the special Oaks and Kentucky Derby training session at 8:30 a.m., but went out earlier in succession with Baffert’s other Derby Week shippers, American Freedom (probable for Friday’s Alysheba Stakes (GII) and a filly for an unspecified allowance race.
“We didn’t want to wait all day [to send Abel Tasman to the track],” Barnes said. “When you only have three horses you don’t want to take two of them out and leave the other one tied to the wall for three hours.”
The Ashland (GI) runner-up is expected to arrive at trainer Kenny McPeek’s Churchill Downs Barn 7 Monday.
“We’re excited to get her to Louisville,” Churchill Downs-based assistant trainer Jeff Hiles said. “She was stabled with me at Payson Park (Florida) this winter and we’re getting excited for the Oaks.”
With a record of 8-2-3-0 and $464,365 in earnings, Daddys Lil Darling began her road to the Kentucky Oaks journey by winning Churchill Downs’ Pocahontas (GII) in September as a juvenile.
“It was spot-on,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “It’s a good race, but the filly is doing wonderful. She’s very comfortable here at Churchill and has run solid over the racetrack. We feel that she has that going for her. And obviously we were impressed with today’s move.”
The Medaglia d’Oro filly, who broke her maiden last spring at Churchill and then finished third in the Golden Rod (GII) last fall, enters the Oaks off a victory in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn. The win followed two fifth-place finishes in the Martha Washington and Honeybee (GIII) Stakes.
“She was geared up for the Fantasy,” Asmussen said. “She’s a nice, laid-back filly and she was just coming back. She was sharp enough for the Fantasy, but maybe still a little flat in the Honeybee.”
“Everything’s good,” Catalano said. “She schooled great —we try to school them twice before races —and then went nice and easy.
“We got her here early (in April) because I was coming here and we were all done (at Fair Grounds) and I wanted her here with me,” he continued. “We have her in the same stall she was in last fall when she won the Golden Rod (GII) and she likes it here.”
Exercise rider Antonio Ramos was once again aboard the three-time Grade II winner. Catalano’s son-in-law Channing Hill has the mount in the Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Catalano also touched on Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum’s expected Pat Day Mile (GII) starter Uncontested. Previously on the Kentucky Derby (GI) trail, the Smarty Jones Stakes winner drilled a bullet 5 furlongs at Churchill Downs on Tuesday in :58.20 and is unraced since finishing eighth in the Rebel (G2) on March 18.
“He worked very good here and it looks like it’s right up his alley,” Catalano said.
“We might blow her out Tuesday,” Mott said.
Twice a winner at 1-1/8 miles in graded stakes company, the daughter of First Samurai exits a 13-length romp in the Gazelle (GII) and rides a five-race winning streak into the toughest test of her career. In her lone career loss, she was fourth on debut behind subsequent GI winner Yellow Agate.
“She’s bright-eyed and seems to be doing well and eating well,” Breen said. “It’s all the things you want to see.”
The Doug O’Neill-trained filly will be ridden in the 9-furlong Oaks by Mario Gutierrez in a field limited to 14 3-year-old fillies. The same connections finished second to Cathryn Sophia in last year’s Kentucky Oaks with Land Over Sea.
The lightly raced daughter of Union Rags was slated to board an airplane early Monday morning and jet east to Louisville for her date in the $1 million Oaks, considered by most to be the premier race nationally for 3-year-old fillies.
Flavian Prat, the California-based rider who has handled Paradise Woods in her three starts, will once again be aboard Friday.
Mandella, who never has won the Run for the Lillies, has a plane scheduled this afternoon from Los Angeles. He and Paradise Woods will set up shop at Barn 42 on the Churchill Downs backside.
Eleven years ago, Kenneally entered the Kentucky Oaks (GI) with another well-regarded Ashland winner, Bushfire, who was owned by Homewrecker’s Ron and Ricki Rashinski. After a tumultuous trip and finishing third across the wire, she was disqualified to sixth. She followed that up with two Grade I victories in New York and was a year-end Eclipse Award finalist.
“She’s peaking at the right time and there are plenty of similarities between her and Bushfire,” Kenneally said. “They both got started in the fall of their 2-year-old years, with Bushfire not starting until November and this filly starting in October, where she became a TDN Rising Star in an excellent Keeneland win. That was one of the reasons we ran her in the Ashland.
In six starts, Sailor’s Valentine has two wins and two seconds. She faced Kentucky Oaks rival Farrell in her second start, a fourth-place finish in the $80,000 Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs, finishing two lengths behind that foe.
SALTY–Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) winner Salty jogged Sunday morning for trainer Mark Casse.
“The first time Salty worked for us I was wowed,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “I like to hold judgment until horses can prove it to me in the afternoons but immediately I knew that we had a very serious contender for the Kentucky Oaks.”
The daughter of Quality Road is scheduled to jog Monday morning.
“We’re happy with her,” trainer Michael Matz said. “She did fine this morning.”
“It was a smooth, fast work,” trainer Ron Moquett said of the move that was the eighth fastest of 61 at the distance. “Just what I wanted.”
“Now we just need 12 or 13 scratches and we’ll be in business,” the trainer quipped.
Joking aside, Drysdale believes the regally bred Giant’s Causeway filly is meant for Grade I success. He intended on the Kentucky Oaks for her from the time she broke her maiden at Del Mar in November. They got a late start in 2017 because of bad weather in Los Angeles and had to catch up by giving her three races in five weeks, starting with a 3-year-old allowance debut on March 9 against colts, won by Derby contender Battle of Midway.
“There was nothing else so we had to run against colts,” Drysdale said. “We were thinking this so we needed to get rolling and we didn’t want to run against Unique Bella first time out.”
Runner-up to Oaks rival Farrell in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) in her most recent start, Wicked Lick is the only filly among the Oaks probable to have started her career on grass.
“She is a big-framed filly that wanted two turns and that is why she started on the grass (at Ellis Park),” Walsh said. “She broke her maiden at Churchill and then we tried her in a stake (the Jessamine-GIII) at Keeneland and she didn’t like the course.”
Wicked Lick’s dirt debut was at a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs but after that it was all two-turn tests at the Fair Grounds with Oaks rider Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.