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Feature: Niji's Grand Girl Steps Into the Spotlight

Call Niji’s Grand Girl the understudy.

When stablemate Kathmanblu was getting her first stakes score for trainer Kenny McPeek, Niji’s Grand Girl was just about to break her maiden. When Kathmanblu was winning her 2011 debut in the Sweet Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park (after taking the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs the season before), Niji’s Grand Girl was preparing to take an allowance race on the same day (after finishing second in the Grade III Delta Princess Stakes last November). When Kathmanblu was garnering all the attention at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, winning her third consecutive stakes race in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 19, Niji’s Grand Girl had just run third in the Feb. 12 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.

But all eyes will be on Niji’s Grand Girl alone in Saturday’s Grade II, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, when the 3-year-old daughter of Candy Ride seeks her first graded stakes score for Ray Struder’s Ladaluce Educe Stables. With her stablemate, the solid 7-2 favorite in the single pool of Churchill Downs’ 2011 Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, pointing toward Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland Stakes on April 9 instead, Niji’s Grand Girl will take on Rachel Alexandra runner-up Inglorious and eight other fillies in the 1 1/16-mile challenge at Fair Grounds.

“She’s been rock solid from day one, never missed a check in her career,” McPeek said of Niji’s Grand Girl, whose current record stands at 2-2-3 from seven lifetime starts. “She has every right to be tough in there and I think she’ll represent us well.”

McPeek said both fillies have been training well, but that Kathmanblu’s lack of the grade I score en route to the Oaks is what made him decide to run her at Keeneland and run Niji’s Grand Girl in this spot.

“There’s half a million reasons to run Niji’s Grand Girl in the Fair Grounds Oaks,” he joked, referring to the race’s $500,000 purse, the richest of any Kentucky Oaks prep. “I appreciate Fair Grounds putting up that kind of money. Mostly, I’m really happy for Ray. He’s the nicest guy and I’m a firm believer that good things happen to good people. I wish more of my clients would be like him; he’s been patient and kind, just a go-with-the-flow kind of guy since day one.”

Struder, 48, is a Tennessee-based businessman who named his stable in honor of Landaluce (1980-1982), the champion filly by Seattle Slew who inspired him to become involved in Thoroughbred racing. Landaluce Educe is Latin for “Remembering Landaluce” or “Landaluce Remembered.”

“The goal of this stable is simple, though the execution may be difficult,” Struder writes on his Landaluce Stables website. “The plan is to team with Kenny McPeek… to obtain one to two yearling fillies per year with both enough classic pedigree and racing potential to become future quality broodmares while enjoying all the time spent with these exciting creatures. The hope is to successfully race them for a few years, then match them with appropriate studs and patiently build a quality racing stable.”

Niji’s Grand Girl is the stable’s first filly. By Candy Ride out of the Nijinsky II mare Rose Russe, she was named for her grandsire and was Candy Ride’s second-leading juvenile runner in 2010. A $62,000 purchase from the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, she was originally obtained by bloodstock agent Louis Bouza, who said she caught his eye simply when he was walking through the consignment area of the track.

 “I saw her out of the corner of my eye and really thought she was a beautiful filly,” the bloodstock agent recalled. “She’s not big, but they don’t need to be big to run. She’s a medium-sized filly, athletic, fairly correct. Her mare was a very good producer and there are filly champions under the second dam like De La Rose. I thought it was a very, very nice pedigree.”

The filly was consigned by Robert West Jr.’s Waterford-Milford Farm, and Bouza happened to be a good friend of his.

“I was in a bit of a hurry but I’ve known Bob for many years and I trust him one hundred percent,” Bouza said. “I went ahead and bought her for a client who then disappeared on me, and got stuck with this filly and owing Keeneland the whole amount on her. I thought since I live in California and Candy Ride’s progeny have done well in California, it would be easy to sell her. But it took much longer than I expected.”

Many people criticized the age of Niji’s Grand Girl’s dam, who was born in 1984, and were concerned that her more recent foals had not done remarkably well on the track. But Bouza had a good feeling about this filly, and he told McPeek about her.

“Kenny ended up buying her privately from me, and that solved my problem with Keeneland, which I regretted ever happened,” the bloodstock agent said. “I’m pretty happy now, she’s run seven times at five different racetracks from the time she was two until now. It’s pretty satisfying with the outcome so far and I hope she will continue to do well. I’m glad she’s with a good trainer and has a good rider (jockey Garrett Gomez) to be on her in a $500,000 race. She’s a very kind filly and talented as well.”

Bouza has never met Struder, who owns two 2-year-olds still on the farm in Ocala and an Argentinean Giant’s Causeway filly who has yet to come to this country, but it stands to reason that the two will cross paths sooner or later in more than business transactions.

“I definitely wish him the best,” Bouza said. “We have a friend and horseman we trust in common with Kenny McPeek, and I’ll be watching the race on Saturday. I’m in California at Santa Anita but my heart and my attention will be at the Fair Grounds.”