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Handicapper's Edge Derby and Oaks Notes 4/01/10

KENTUCKY DERBY REPORT

APRIL 1, 2010

by James Scully

Todd Pletcher's name will be all over this year's Kentucky Derby (G1) program. With MISSION IMPAZIBLE's (Unbridled's Song) victory in Saturday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2), the conditioner's roster is potentially nine-deep.

Here's a break down of Pletcher's Derby horses in terms of graded earnings:

Mission Impazible joined RULE (Roman Ruler) and DISCREETLY MINE (Mineshaft) as guaranteed Derby starters, barring injury. INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) and AIKENITE (Yes It's True) are well-situated with $270,450 and $218,000, respectively, in graded earnings and both will have the opportunity to pad their bankroll in the $750,000 Blue Grass S. (G1) on April 10. That's five Derby starters so far.

SUPER SAVER (Maria's Mon) and ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway) are on the outside of the graded-earnings bubble presently, with $163,832 and $150,000, respectively, but both colts are poised to make a significant jump in their final prep. Eskendereya will be the heavy favorite in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial (G1), and Super Saver looms as the potential lone speed in next Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). That makes seven probables.

Pletcher said on Tuesday's NTRA teleconference to include Grade 1-winning filly DEVIL MAY CARE (Malibu Moon) in the Derby discussion. Nominated to the Triple Crown, Devil May Care ran nine furlongs faster than Florida Derby (G1) winner Ice Box (Pulpit) when posting a 2 3/4-length victory in the Bonnie Miss S. (G2) earlier on the program and will easily make the field ($364,000 in graded earnings) if her connections decide to challenge a less-than-inspiring group of males. Look for them to opt for the Derby route, providing Pletcher with his eighth contestant.

Last on the nine-horse list is CONNEMARA (Giant's Causeway). Winner of the El Camino Real Derby (G3) two back, the half-brother to 2004 Derby runner-up Lion Heart finished third as the 8-5 choice in Saturday's Lane's End S. (G2) and will need major defections in order to make the Derby with only $138,500 in graded earnings. A good showing in the $300,000 Lexington S. (G2) on April 17 would ensure his participation, but his connections may not want to run him that close to the Derby.

So we'll go with eight likely Derby runners, with the possibility of nine. That puts Pletcher, who has recorded a pair of seconds and a third in 24 previous Derby starts, in position to send out at least 40 percent of the 2010 Derby field. He has a lot of good horses as well as strength by numbers.

Louisiana Derby

Mission Impazible recorded a hard-fought, three-quarters of a length decision over pacesetter A LITTLE WARM (Stormin Fever) in the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby. After breaking on top, the gray colt was eased back by jockey Rajiv Maragh and received a ground-saving trip along the inside, within a few lengths of the leader. Maragh guided his mount off the rail approaching the conclusion of the far turn and went after A Little Warm in midstretch, eventually wearing down his rival late. He received a disappointing 97 BRIS Speed rating for his effort.

That Speed figure won't get it done on May 1 and the Louisiana Derby doesn't look like a strong prep. But Mission Impazible, whose lone previous win came in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight event at Keeneland last April, is a horse on the improve for Pletcher. After being sidelined eight months, he returned with a close second in a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream in January and then gave a solid account of himself with a fourth-place effort in the Southwest S. (G3), re-rallying through the stretch after losing ground on the far turn. He took a significant step forward in the Louisiana Derby, flashing plenty of potential for the lucrative three-year-old stakes races this summer, but he'll be competing for a minor award at best on Derby Day.

A Little Warm ran a big one in his two-turn debut, withstanding multiple bids from fourth-placer Discreetly Mine before being challenged by Mission Imapazible and third-placer DROSSELMEYER (Distorted Humor) inside the final furlong, but trainer Tony Dutrow was non-committal about the Derby afterward, leaving it up to the owners to decide. The speedy colt is in a tenuous position with only $180,000 in graded earnings and a handful of rich prep races remaining, and it would probably be in his best interest to bypass the Derby given his pedigree for 1 1/4 miles.

Drosselmeyer was able to save ground early from post 13, angling over to the rail in midpack as he entered the first turn, but encountered serious trouble in the stretch run. Jockey Kent Desormeaux had the option to take him around horses entering the far turn, but he elected to remain on the rail and Drosselmeyer arrived at the top of the stretch with a head full of momentum and no place to go. Desormeaux was forced to apply the brakes and, with no opportunity to alter course, waited until a path opened in deep stretch. By that point it was too late and Drosselmeyer wound up being beaten only a length in third. He's left with only $85,000 in graded earnings, and trainer Bill Mott will need to squeeze in another prep race or point toward the Preakness S. (G1).

Discreetly Mine, who was forwardly-placed from the start, offered a bold move turning for home but came up a little short in the final eighth of a mile, checking in another neck back in fourth. He's earned BRIS Speed ratings of 95-97-95 this year and will be facing faster horses next time.

Sunland Derby

ENDORSEMENT (Distorted Humor) is a new face on the Derby scene by virtue of his convincing victory in Sunday's Sunland Derby (G3), rolling past pacesetter and 3-5 favorite CONVEYANCE (Indian Charlie) at the top of the stretch to win going away by three lengths. Owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Shannon Ritter, the well-bred colt was dismissed at 11-1 by the betting public following a 2 1/2-length maiden score on February 20 at Oaklawn Park that netted him only a 93 BRIS Speed rating. He earned a career-best 99 Speed number at Sunland Park.

Conveyance's stock took a serious tumble in defeat. The gray colt comfortably captured his first four career starts, including a pair of one-mile tallies this year in the Southwest and San Rafael S. (G3), and led by 1 1/2 lengths on Sunday after an opening half-mile in a dawdling :48.04. The Bob Baffert pupil couldn't have asked for a better set-up -- only one of the other 11 two-turn route races on the program featured a slower opening half-mile -- but it became readily apparent that Conveyance was in trouble when Martin Garcia began asking for more approaching the stretch drive. Conveyance didn't put up much of a fight against the winner and will have to carry his speed an extra eighth of a mile on a contested pace in the Derby.

Endorsement is out of an A.P. Indy mare and may generate some comparisons to last year's three-year-old champion Summer Bird (Birdstone). After breaking his maiden at Oaklawn last March, Summer Bird finished third in the Arkansas Derby and sixth in the Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Belmont S. (G1), Travers S. (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Endorsement has a lot to do to live up to those standards, but he's got that kind of potential. The chestnut owns good tactical speed and can finish, generating BRIS Late Pace ratings of 107 and 101 in his limited racing career, and there's plenty of room for improvement. He's a beautiful mover who shouldn't be taken lightly, but the Derby will be asking a lot from such an inexperienced colt.

Don't be surprised to see Endorsement's bandwagon pick up steam in the coming weeks, especially if he trains splendidly at Churchill Downs, but history is not in his corner. Curlin, who finished third in the 2007 Derby after breaking his maiden in February, is another recent example of a supremely talented three-year-old who wasn't able to overcome his inexperience on the first Saturday in May.

Lane's End

DEAN'S KITTEN (Kitten's Joy) switched from turf to Polytrack to notch his first stakes victory in Saturday's Lane's End, rallying from just off the pace to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths, and is headed to the Derby for owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker. The synthetic track at Turfway Park is the only reason he's in the picture.

His lone dirt attempt came over a good track in the off-the-turf Pilgrim S. at Belmont Park last year and Dean's Kitten trailed most of the way before winding up 33 3/4 lengths back of the winner. He posted an encouraging 101 BRIS Speed rating in the Lane's End and rates as one of the top turf three-year-olds in the country, but Dean's Kitten will probably finish up the track in the Derby.

Upcoming

A dynamite slate of races is on tap this weekend, headed by the appearances of the two leading Kentucky Derby contenders, LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) and ESKENDEREYA. The former will be the one to beat in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), where he'll have to catch dangerous front runner and San Felipe S. (G2) winner SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy's Ride [Arg]). The centerpiece event of the Santa Anita meet will provide the last opportunity for Derby hopefuls CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams), SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect) and ALPHIE'S BET (Tribal Rule) to garner enough graded earnings.

Eskendereya put on a scintillating display at Gulfstream Park when capturing the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) by 8 1/2 lengths, but he bypassed the Florida Derby in favor of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, where he will face a much stiffer test. AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again) looked formidable when posting an impressive 1 1/4-length score in his U.S. debut, the Gotham S. (G3), and is eligible to keep moving forward for trainer Jeremy Noseda on Saturday. Fountain of Youth and Holy Bull S. (G3) runner-up JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) will be cranked up for his best by Nick Zito, and SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even), who narrowly lost the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) after striking the front too early, will pick up the services of Ramon Dominguez and enters on the upswing for Derek Ryan.

Tom Amoss has morning-line favorite BACKTALK (Smarty Jones) in Saturday's Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne. The Grade 2-winning colt opened his sophomore campaign with a victory in the Sportsmen's Paradise S. at Delta Downs and recorded a sizzling six-furlong workout at Fair Grounds last weekend in preparation for his second start of the season. Gotham runner-up YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska) will ship in for Richard Dutrow, and a couple of well-regarded California invaders, AMERICAN LION (Tiznow) and DAVE IN DIXIE (Dixie Union), will be looking to move up in their dirt debuts.

 

Field favored in final Future Wager

LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) and the field were both bet down to 9-2 when wagering closed on the third and final Pool of Churchill Downs' 2010 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) Sunday evening, but the field earned favoritism status. The "all others" wager was also favored in both of this year's earlier KDFW pools. It closed as the 3-2 choice in February's Pool 1 and the 3-1 fan's choice when wagering ended for Pool 2 on March 7.

The "all others" bet has been the favorite in the opening pool of the KDFW every year since the wager was launched in 1999, but 2010 marks the first time that it has been the fan's choice in the year's third and final pool. The margin that separated the field wager from Lookin at Lucky was razor-thin, as both were 9-2 risks when wagering on the three-day pool concluded across North America at 6 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. However, actual closing odds for the mutuel field were $4.50-to-1, while the Bob Baffert-trained Lookin at Lucky stood at $4.90-to-$1.

Lookin at Lucky, who is likely to make his final Kentucky Derby prep in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby (G1), closed as the 9-1 third choice in the second KDFW and is the 8-1 second choice from Pool 1.

ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), one of trainer Todd Pletcher's record seven individual horses in Pool 3, was the only other individual horse who closed at single-digit odds when wagering ended on Sunday. The chestnut was bet down to 5-1, the same odds at which he closed as the individual betting favorite in Pool 2. Headed for the Wood Memorial S. (G1) on Saturday at Aqueduct, Eskendereya is listed at 22-1 for Pool 1.

Individual horses that received solid support during the just-concluded final Derby Futures Wager of 2010 included Gotham S. (G3) hero AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again), who closed at 13-1 ahead of his expected start in the Wood Memorial; Grade 1 victor DUBLIN (Afleet Alex) (18-1), going in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10; Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon) (18-1), who is headed for either the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass S. (G1) on the same day; Grade 1 scorer NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee) (19-1), set for the Arkansas Derby; Florida Derby (G1) king ICE BOX (Pulpit)(19-1), who is training up to the Kentucky Derby; dual Grade 3 winner CONVEYANCE (Indian Charlie) (19-1), second in Sunday's Sunland Derby (G3); and multiple Grade 2 hero and Santa Anita Derby hopeful SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]) (22-1).

A total of $310,154 was wagered in Pool 3, with $224,358 specified as win wagers and $85,796 going into exacta bets. Combined wagering for the three 2010 pools was $1,132,055.

Exacta payouts and other Kentucky Derby Future Wager information are available online under "Contenders" and "News" at www.kentuckyderby.com, the official website for the 136th running of America's greatest race and the definitive online resource for information about the Kentucky Derby experience.  

 

Eskendereya tops six-pack in Wood Memorial

ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), generally considered among the top two candidates for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1), will have his final prep for the big dance in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial S. (G1) on a stakes-laden card at Aqueduct. The leading prospect for trainer Todd Pletcher, who could conceivably have as many as seven or eight entrants in the Run for the Roses, will again be piloted be piloted by John Velazquez over one lap of the Big A's 1 1/8-mile main oval.

Considered by most to have had the most impressive prep win of the season so far, an 8 1/2-length demolition of his foes in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) on February 20, Eskendereya was kept out of the March 20 Florida Derby (G1) over the same course and distance due to owner Ahmed Zayat's preference for a final prep closer in proximity to the Kentucky Derby, a decision not without a small element of risk. With only $150,000 in graded earnings to date, an unexpectedly poor effort in the Wood might leave Eskendereya on the outside looking in come Derby time with few remaining opportunities to grab additional graded earnings. In general, however, a truly bad performance by the favorite seems inconceivable on paper.

The likely second choice in the wagering is AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again), who invaded from England for trainer Jeremy Noseda to win the Gotham S. (G3) over the inner dirt in impressive fashion. That was also the chestnut's first appearance on dirt after running exclusively on turf and synthetic previously. He first came to attention on this side of the pond in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Santa Anita, where he made a belated rally for fourth.

The other main players both wintered in Florida. JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) has yet to equal his best BRIS Speed ratings from his juvenile campaign in two starts for Nick Zito this season. Though he finished second in both the Holy Bull S. (G3) and Fountain of Youth, the Florida-bred will have to elevate his game and prove he wants to go farther than nine furlongs. SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even) was re-routed to the Wood earlier in the week from Saturday's Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne, where he might have gone favored. From the same connections that campaigned dual classic-placed Musket Man last season, the bay enters off runner-up finishes in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G3), the latter in a bizarrely tight photo to Odysseus (Malibu Moon).

The remaining two entrants are in deep. MOST HAPPY FELLA (Ecton Park), who shares a name with the prominent Standardbred who won the Pacing Triple Crown in 1970, recently defeated New York-bred allowance/optional claiming foes while CARNIVORE (Giant's Causeway) enters fresh off a seven-length maiden win at Laurel.

The other graded stakes on the Wood Memorial undercard also attracted small fields. Six will line up in the $250,000 Carter H. (G1) over seven furlongs with favoritism likely to fall on MUNNINGS (Speightstown), who seeks his first top-level success following Grade 2 scores in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, Tom Fool H. and Woody Stephens S. over the past two seasons. The Pletcher charge has placed at the Grade 1 level five times since his juvenile season, however, and carries top weight of 119 pounds because of it.

The aforementioned MUSKET MAN (Yonaguska) made a successful return to the races on February 6 when taking the Super S. at Tampa Bay Downs going seven-eighths. Last year's Illinois Derby (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby winner had been idle since last May when third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness S. (G1). DIGGER (Yonaguska), runner-up in the General George H. (G2) last time following back-to-back wins in the Gravesend H. and Fire Plug S., appears competitive on recent form as does the Grade 2-placed WARRIOR'S REWARD (Medaglia d'Oro), who made a successful return in a February 11 allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream.

ELUSIVE WARNING (Elusive Quality), a subpar fourth in the Toboggan S. (G3) last out, is capable of better while DRIVEN BY SUCCESS (Precise End) will be a longshot to improve on his third-place effort in the 2009 Carter.

EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY (Forest Camp), who turned heads with a sparkling 17 1/4-length maiden win over the inner dirt in January, will make a highly-anticipated return to the track in the $200,000 Bay Shore S. (G3) over seven furlongs. The sophomore was heavily favored in the February 6 Whirlaway S. in his follow-up, but bolted around the clubhouse turn after his bit broke in two and his bridle came loose. The colt required 14 stitches to repair cuts to his legs following that incident, but has been given plenty of time to recover and looks the strongest in the field of seven.

Others of note are Fred "Cappy" Capossela S. winner CASTANEDA (Yonaguska); RAYNICK'S JET (A. P Jet), an impressive winner of a state-bred allowance last time; and the stakes-placed Californian HURRICANE IKE (Graeme Hall), who makes his dirt debut for trainer John Sadler.

 

Lookin at Lucky faces nine in Santa Anita Derby

Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) has drawn a contentious group of 10 three-year-olds trying to stamp their tickets to the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, but the reappearance of champion LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) could spoil those plans.

Trainer Bob Baffert shipped the bay colt to Oaklawn Park for the March 13 Rebel S. (G2), which was his dirt debut. Lookin at Lucky passed the main track test, but had to work to get the head victory in the 1 1/16-mile test following midrace trouble. His Hall of Fame conditioner opted to take his charge back to California for the Santa Anita Derby instead of staying at Oaklawn for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10, and Lookin at Lucky will break from the 7 post as the 4-5 morning-line favorite.

Lookin at Lucky owns a 6-1-0 record from seven starts, with his only loss coming as head second following a troubled trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last season. Regular rider Garrett Gomez has piloting duties once again.

Lookin at Lucky's biggest threat on Saturday should come from SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]). The John Sadler trainee has captured his last two over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride, drawing off to an impressive 4 1/4-length victory in the San Vicente S. (G2) and posting a half-length score in the San Felipe S. (G2). The chestnut, who is the 3-1 second favorite on the morning-line, will break from the 4 post in this one, which should aid his front-running ways under Joe Talamo.

CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams) will be looking for revenge on Sidney's Candy following a third-place finish behind that one in the San Felipe. That was the Mike Machowsky runner's only loss from six starts to date and, like Lookin at Lucky, the chestnut will be trying to make it his only loss. He's the 5-1 third choice with Paul Atkinson in the saddle.

ALPHIE'S BET (Tribal Rule) is the only runner in the Santa Anita Derby who has actually won at the distance. That victory came on March 6 in the Sham S. (G3), where the Alexis Barba-conditioned bay pulled away late to secure the 2 1/4-length win over SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect), who was making his stakes bow in the Sham.

Other interesting Santa Anita Derby prospects include POSSE POWER (Posse), WHO'S UP (Graeme Hall) and CARDIFF GIANT (Yankee Gentleman). Posse Power will be trying Pro-Ride for the first time here after spending his prior six career starts on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields. He enters this race following a third in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) in his black-type bow. Who's Up will be making his first start since capturing the Generous S. (G3) at Hollywood Park last November, and will be saddled by new trainer Mike Puhich. Cardiff Giant will probably enjoy revisiting the Pro-Ride following a below-par fifth-place effort in the Rebel last out. He, too, will be running for Puhich, while returning to the site of his San Rafael S. (G3) second.

Allowance scorers THOMAS BAINES (Johannesburg) and SKIPSHOT (Skip Away) round out the Santa Anita Derby field.

Santa Anita will host a total of four stakes on Saturday, with the $150,000 Arcadia H. (G2) highlighting the undercard events. Multiple Grade 2 king BATTLE OF HASTINGS (GB) (Royal Applause [GB]) is looking for his first win since taking last year's Virginia Derby (G2). Since then, the Jeff Mullins trainee has run second by a nose in the Del Mar Derby (G2), fourth in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), second by a head in the Oak Tree Derby (G2) and second in the Hollywood Derby (G1).

In his seasonal debut, the four-year-old recorded a third-placing in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile H. (G1) and will have to face the nose runner-up from that event again here in this one-mile turf test. FLUKE (Brz) (Wild Event) captured the Citation H. (G1) in November, then returned to lead nearly all the way home in the Kilroe Mile, just getting nipped on the line while holding Battle of Hastings by 1 1/4 lengths. BLUE CHAGALL (Fr) (Testa Rossa), fourth in the Kilroe Mile, is also part of this seven-horse field.

A field of 10 three-year-old fillies will get their turn on the turf when going 1 1/8 miles in the $150,000 Providencia S. (G2). CAMILLE C (Roman Dancer), runner-up in the China Doll S. last out over course and distance, will try to turn the tables on the winner CITY TO CITY (City Zip). WARREN'S JITTERBUG (Affirmative), who just missed winning the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) by three necks, and Santa Anita Oaks fifth-placer COZI ROSIE (Pleasantly Perfect) are also in the Providencia.

Nine sprinters are set to line up in the $150,000 Potrero Grande H. (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs, including EATON'S GIFT (Johannesburg), winner of last year's Smile Sprint H. (G2); Triple Bend H. (G1) runner-up RUSH WITH THUNDER (Tribal Rule); and VENTANA (Toccet), second in the San Carlos H. (G2) and Palos Verdes H. (G2) in his two starts so far this year.

 

She Be Wild returns in Ashland

Grade 1 winner SHE BE WILD (Offlee Wild), recipient of the Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old filly of 2009, will make only her second start of the year on Saturday while facing seven rivals in the $400,000 Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland. The 1 1/16-mile Polytrack test could be the final chance for the Wayne Catalano charge to prove herself worthy of starting in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on April 30.

She Be Wild closed out her championship juvenile season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), but didn't do so well in her return nearly three months later in the Forward Gal S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park. The dark bay miss ran three wide and tired to fifth in that seven-furlong event, which was also her dirt debut. She returns here to the same Polytrack over which she suffered her only other loss, a half-length second to NEGLIGEE (Northern Afleet) in last October's Alcibiades S. (G1). Jose Lezcano picks up the mount on She Be Wild as Julian Leparoux will be riding at Aqueduct on Saturday.

Negligee may have beaten She Be Wild in the Alcibiades, but she wasn't able to duplicate that effort when rallying for sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Trained by John Terranova II, the bay lass was close on the wire, just 1 3/4 lengths back of her rival, and will be making her seasonal bow in this spot off that loss. She earned her only stakes victory to date over Keeneland's Polytrack, and will try to keep her Kentucky record perfect with Rajiv Maragh retaining the mount.

BEAUTICIAN (Dehere) still owns just one win, with that coming when she broke her maiden in he career bow at Churchill Downs last June, but the Kenny McPeek runner has been close against stakes rivals multiple times. So far she's run second in the Schuylerville S. (G3), Spinaway S. (G1), Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Honeybee S. (G3). Her only off-the-board finishes were a fifth in the Alcibiades and a seventh when trying the Cushion Track in the Hollywood Starlet S. (G1). She rebounded nicely off that lackluster effort to make her seasonal bow in the Honeybee last out and will keep Robby Albarado in the saddle for this one.

EVENING JEWEL (Northern Afleet) could make some noise in the Ashland following a pair of seconds in the Santa Ysabel S. (G3) and Las Virgenes S. (G1) at Santa Anita. She captured the California Breeders' Champion S. while going 8 1/2 furlongs and is unplaced just once in her seven-race career. Kent Desormeaux rides the James Cassidy trainee. PROTESTING (A.P. Indy) is another who might offer up a surprise following a two fourth-place finishes against allowance rivals. The Shug McGaughey charge was second in last year's nine-furlong Demoiselle S. (G2) at Aqueduct and broke her maiden prior to that one by five lengths over Keeneland's Polytrack. Javier Castellano has the call.

The other three entrants in the Ashland all have turf backgrounds, which may actually come in handy on the Polytrack. UPPERLINE (Maria's Mon) will be renewing her rivalry with APPLE CHARLOTTE (Smart Strike) after being held to third by that rival in the grassy Herecomesthebride S. (G3). IT'S TEA TIME (Dynaformer), on the other hand, just broke her maiden on February 21 and will be making her stakes bow in this spot.

 

Quartet to go in Fantasy

The decision earlier this week to send Beautician (Dehere) to Keeneland for Saturday's Ashland S. (G1) has left Friday's $300,000 Fantasy S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park with only four three-year-old filly prospects, but the quartet, headed by multiple Grade 1 winner BLIND LUCK (Pollard's Vision), is solid on paper. The 1 1/16-mile Good Friday feature kicks off Oaklawn's Racing Festival of the South, which runs through Arkansas Derby Day on April 10.

All eyes will be on Blind Luck, who will be out to prove she has not lost any affinity for running on dirt. After breaking her maiden by more than 13 lengths in a claiming race at Calder last June, the chestnut was privately sold and sent to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in California. While there, she scored or placed in six straight Grade 1 events, winning the Oak Leaf S., Hollywood Starlet S. and Las Virgenes S. Her three losses have been by margins of one length or less, including a three-quarters-of-a-length miss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies which cost her an Eclipse Award.

The gap between Blind Luck and her rivals, which was at its greatest in her seven-length romp in the Hollywood Starlet, has narrowed significantly this season. After barely getting her nostril up in time in the Las Virgenes, she got on track too late last time in the Santa Anita Oaks and settled for third a half-length behind Crisp (El Corredor).

ALL DUE RESPECT (Value Plus), who led for all but the last few strides of the Santa Anita Oaks, raced exclusively on dirt prior to her excursion to California. A late developer, she lost all four of her starts at two before romping by more than seven lengths in a Fair Grounds maiden on January 24. Jockey Garrett Gomez will likely have her on or close to the lead in the Fantasy, and can easily get the jump on the late-running Blind Luck.

The Oaklawn-based contingent for the Fantasy is made up of NO SUCH WORD (Canadian Frontier) and TIDAL POOL (Yankee Gentleman). The former upset Beautician at 6-1 in the Honeybee S. (G3), the leading local prep for the Fantasy, to remain perfect in two-turn races. Tidal Pool, who earned a 101 BRIS Speed rating when winning a one-mile allowance by eight lengths on February 18, is also likely to show speed but has struggled at this class level in the past having placed just once in five previous stakes attempts.