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Valadorna Seeks Stakes Validation in Rachel Alexandra

The Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes has become a vital prep for not only the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks five weeks later over the same Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots main track and 1 1/16-miles distance, but also the Grade I $1,000,000 Longines Kentucky Oaks five weeks after that. In 2017, the field is filled with quality befitting of such a champion as Rachel Alexandra, who easily annexed the 2009 Fair Grounds Oaks.

Stonestreet Stables’ Valadorna leads the way in the field of seven and exits a deceptively easy victory in first-level allowance company on Jan. 27 at a mile and 70 yards and has been working very well over this surface since December. Trained by Mark Casse, who has been winning with a quarter of his entrants this meet, the daughter of Curlin has a slight class edge on her foes, having finished second two starts back in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by a diminishing three-quarters of a length at this distance after being held up for what might have been a vital second midway on the far turn. Regular rider Julien Leparoux once again rides from post five.

Though she may have Grade I ‘cred’, Valadorna has yet to win a stakes event in her four starts and will be challenged by two formidable graded stakes winners in Coffeepot Stables’ homebred Farrell, from the barn of three-time Breeders’ Cup-winning conditioner Wayne Catalano, as well as ERJ Racing, W C Racing and Dennis O’Neill’s Shane’s Girlfriend, who ships in for the powerful California-based Doug O’Neill string. The former was a clear victor in the local prep for this event, the Listed $145,000 Silverbulletday Stakes on Jan. 21, and romped two months prior at this trip in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. Channing Hill rides from post two.

Shane’s Girlfriend owns the highest speed figures in the field on the strength of a 13¼-length romp in Delta Downs’ Grade III Delta Princess two back on Nov. 19 and should be a serious pace threat after kicking off her season in a swiftly run renewal of the seven-furlong Grade II Santa Ynez on Jan. 8. Dodging the big gray bullet that is divisional leader Unique Bella – the 7½-length romper that day – Shane’s Girlfriend ships east for a barn that did the same with Land Over Sea last season to win the Fair Grounds Oaks with aplomb. Mario Gutierrez rides from post three.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Untapped will try to reverse form after the first poor showing of her career last out in the Silverbulletday, finishing fifth, 6¼ lengths behind Farrell as the 8-5 second choice. After finishing three-quarters of a length astern Valadorna on debut, Sept. 16, the full-sister to champion Untapable – who dominated this event in 2014 for trainer Steve Asmussen – was a commanding graduate in late October before doing the same in Fair Grounds allowance company. Florent Geroux, the only rider she has known, rides again from the rail.

A filly familiar with Untapped, Lee Mauberret’s Wicked Lick looks to continue her positive trajectory. Second behind said rival two back in allowance company, she returned to run a bang-up second in the Silverbulletday, closing from fifth to be less than three lengths behind Farrell. Brian Hernandez, Jr., who has been aboard this daughter of Maclean’s Music in all four of her top-two finishes from six lifetime starts, returns to the saddle from post six.

The field is completed by California shipper and maiden Majestic Quality (Kent Desormeaux, post four) and Silverbulletday third-place finisher Gris Gris (James Graham, post seven).